The Cooking Up History Sessions – 4: salmagundi and cheesecake

We’d been hoping for a sunny day for our latest Cooking Up History session. With a summery menu of salmagundi salad and lemon-scented cheesecake on the menu, we were all set for a picnic-style celebration. As it turned out, the British Summer caught us out. But no matter – despite the grey skies there was plenty of cheer in the Archives Centre kitchen as we welcomed back our volunteers to try out more recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

‘Salamon Gondy’

Making up our first dish, the so-called ‘salamon gondy’, turned out to quite an entertaining experience. Our lengthy list of ingredients seemed fairly formidable, comprising fish, turkey, onions, beetroot, capers, gherkins, apple, boiled eggs and celery. The method was, by contrast, incredibly simple: chop and slice our ingredients into small pieces, then make up a basic vinaigrette as a dressing.

Kim assembling the salmagundi salad

Kim assembling the salmagundi salad

Assembling our dish was the most technically challenging and exciting aspect of the recipe. We knew that colourful salads like this would have been carefully arranged to form eye-catching centrepieces for the Georgian dining table, and wanted to make sure that our version made a similarly striking impression.  We discussed how best to arrange our ingredients, and checked out a few examples of similar salads online – not least Revolutionary Pie’s impressive version. Inspired, we set about constructing our spectacular salad.

The finished 'salamon gundy'!

The finished ‘salamon gondy’!

We were all very pleased with the finished design, a brightly coloured array of ingredients positioned in rings around the central portion of turkey breast. Archives staff member Hilary joined us for the tasting. She, along with the rest of the team, found much to be enjoyed in this eclectic salad, and thought it would make a great centrepiece at a special dinner today. Christina added that she ‘wouldn’t be ashamed to have it on my own table’.

Some of us had been a bit nervous about trying the salad, as the prospect of turkey mixed with salty fish and sweet apple and beet was something of an unknown quantity. For some of us, the tastes were to be a completely new experience – Rachel, for one, had never tried herring before.

Time for the tasting! The salmagundi went down surprisingly well

Time for the tasting! The salmagundi went down surprisingly well

In the end we were all pleasantly surprised, and our enjoyment of the finished dish matched the fun we’d had creating it. With so many different flavours, at first every mouthful we ate was very different from the last. But as we continued to taste it, the flavours merged well, with the salty anchovies offsetting the sweetness of the apple, and the turkey acting as a nice, neutral counterbalance to the punchy onion.

Of course, our unknown ladies’ version of the salad may have tasted quite different had they opted for ingredients that had been preserved in other ways. We’d chosen fresh beetroot, and anchovies and herrings in oil. If the 18th century cooks had instead gone for fresh fish or pickled beetroot, the final effect could have been quite different. As with so many of the recipes in the Cookbook, the vague listing of ingredients leaves room for interpretation.

Would we make it again? It was certainly one of the healthier recipes we’d tried from the Cookbook. Rachel found the combination of flavours and textures was actually quite modern – the sort of thing you’d pay an arm and a leg for at a swanky London café.

The Georgians may have been less concerned with the healthy attributes of the dish, but they did pay considerable attention to making sure each meal comprised a balanced selection of dishes. What better counterpart to a stomach-filling roast than a fresh, light salad? And, as Judith pointed out, the salmagundi was another example of how the 18th century cook could concoct something spectacular out of economical, everyday ingredients.

Lemon Cheesecake

Rachel prepares the lemon cheesecake batter - plenty of muscle work required!

Rachel prepares the lemon cheesecake batter – plenty of muscle work required!

We prepared a lemon cheesecake for second course, mixing together almonds, lemon, eggs and a large amount of butter. The recipe offered us the choice of adding either orange blossom water or rose water to our recipe. Rachel suggested that orange would enhance the citrus tones of the lemon, and Kim recalled how rosewater was sometimes pretty overpowering when we’d used it in other dishes, so we plumped for orange blossom.

Our lemon cheesecake

Our lemon cheesecake

The finished cheesecake – so named because of its cheese-like-texture rather than any cheese in the recipe – delighted us all. Fresh out of the oven, it had an extremely pleasing appearance: a lovely golden brown with a firm consistency. The combination of citrus fruits was really delicious. Hilary enjoyed the subtle fragrance of our orange water with its ‘scented after-taste’ and Christina was so taken with it she said she’d bake the dish again at home.

Christina serves up the cheesecake for the all important tasting!

Christina serves up the cheesecake for the all important tasting!

Previous dishes tried out by our Cooking Up History group, such as the almond puddings of our first session, had included so much butter that they’d been rather too rich for modern tastes. We’d feared something similar this time round, there being 220g to just 150g of almonds in the mix. But we needn’t have worried – the cheesecake wasn’t too rich at all.

Today we think of butter as a staple ingredient, and indeed it was too in the 18th century. But Rachel reminded us evidence that our Cookbook compilers churned their own butter. The effort that had gone into making their cheesecakes was therefore far more considerable than the 30 minutes it had taken to get our cakes in the oven. Food for thought…

Cooking success! Hilary, Christina, Kim and Rachel in the Archives Centre kitchen

Cooking success! Hilary, Christina, Kim and Rachel in the Archives Centre kitchen

If you’d like to give any of our recipes a go, check out our Cooking Up History pages!


A quick fix for soft fruits

This neat little recipe makes a quick and easy preserve out of plums, gooseberries, cherries or currants.

This 18th century preserving recipe can be used on many soft fruits, including cherries, plums, currants and gooseberries

This 18th century preserving recipe can be used on many soft fruits, including cherries, plums, currants and gooseberries

How to Preserve Horse Plumbs, Damsons, Wheaten Plumbs or Cherrys Whole or Red Gooseberrys or Currans for Torts

Gather your fruit in a dry day. Your gooseberrys or currans must be puld off the stalks. Your cherrys must be stoned and puled off ye stalks. Wheaten plumbs & horse plumbs must neither be stoned nor ski[n’d], but cut the stoane in ye cleft. Your fruit must be all full ripe. Then, when you have done all this, weigh to every pound of fruit 3 qrs of a pound of lump sugar & only dip it in water & set it on the fire to clear ye sirrup. Then put in the fruit & let them boule exceed[ingly] quick till the are clear & very rich. Keep them down with ye back of a spoon. Then put them in crocks for use. When cold, put a paper dipt in brandy over them & tye other papers over ye crock.

Varieties of both red (horse) plums and white/yellow (wheaten) plums are specifically mentioned in this recipe. We can only assume that these types were the most easily obtainable for our unknown ladies, growing perhaps in their own walled garden. Alternatively, they may have bought their fruits  or sold by touring street traders, like this cherry seller:

A cherry seller pictured outside St James’s Palace.

A cherry seller pictured outside St James’s Palace.

Plums were certainly popular fruits in the 18th century. Writing in his treatise on land management, The Whole Art of Husbandry (1708), John Mortimer finds the plum “a more pleasing, but not so wholesome a fruit” as the cherry. He goes on to list more than 60 kinds of plums – far more than we could ever get hold of in a supermarket today.

Some of the fruit varieties our 18th century cookbook compilers may well have been lost to history. But there are organisations dedicated to preserving Britain’s ‘heritage’ varieties, such as the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale. So if you’re interested in discovering the tastes of an 18th century orchard, or even growing a heritage fruit tree in your own garden, why not give Brogdale a call?

Kitchiner’s cure for an upset stomach

If you overindulged at a barbecue over the weekend, you’ll probably emphasise with the sickly soul for whom today’s ‘stomachic tincture’ was intended.

This home-made medicine includes Peruvian bark. Its source is the cinchona tree, from which bitter-tasting quinine is also produced. Catholic missionaries to South America were introduced to its medicinal properties by the indigenous peoples of Peru, and so by the 18th century it was also widely referred to as ‘Jesuit’s bark’.

Like so many of the active ingredients used in Georgian home remedies, it was believed to cure any number of ailments. Well known for its sobering, tonic and astringent properties, it was also given to patients to bring down a fever.

In this Regency recipe from Dr William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, it is made into a concentrate with orange peel and brandy, and then taken with water to settle the stomach.

Regency recipe for a home remedy, "stomachic tincture"

Regency recipe for a home remedy, “stomachic tincture”

Stomachic Tincture

Peruvian bark bruised, an ounce & a half; orange peel [bruised], one ounce; brandy or proof spirit, one pint. Let these ingredients steep for ten days, shaking the bottle every day. Let it remain quiet two days and then decant the clear liquor. Dose, a teaspoonful in a wine glass of water twice a day, before dinner & in the evening.

Kitchiner refers to this medicine as an ‘agreeable aromatic tonic’, but, with no sugar to offset the bitterness of the bark, it doesn’t sound too palatable to us. However he does offer an alternative stomach calming remedy, which is somewhat more appealing :

Tea made with dried and bruised Seville orange-peel, in the same way as common tea, and drank with milk and sugar, has been taken by nervous and dyspeptic persons with great benefit“.

Maybe an orange tea like this before bed would see off the stomach cramps? We’ll bear it in mind next time we feel the worse for wear…

Gooseberry pudding

Tangy gooseberries lend this pudding a sharp-sweet note – and it all sounds rather delicious! We’ll definitely be giving this recipe a go at home…

18th century recipe for a 'Goose Bery Pudding', from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for a ‘Goose Bery Pudding’, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Goose Bery Pudding

Boyle three quarts of goose berrys soft, and strain them through a haire sieve with the back of a spoon and when cold mix it up with some melted butter, cinaman, nutmeg, a glass of brandy grated (sic), a dust of flower, white sugar, eight eggs, three whites, two spoonfulls of rose water, half a pint of new milk. Put peast about the brim of the dish.

Based on our experience of other pudding recipes in the Cookbook, just over half  an hour at 180°C should see this cooked through nicely. Enjoy!

To fatten chickens in 4 days

Today’s extract adds to the growing body of evidence the our unknown ladies of the Cookbook kept some of their own animals, perhaps on a small farm. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily had a purely rural existence: they well have lived within a short walk of the bustling markets of London. The 18th century city petered out into fields just a few blocks north of Oxford Street, and you didn’t need to go far west of where Westminster Archives stands today to find yourself in acre upon acre of common land and market gardens. Bowles’ map of 1775 shows St Ann’s Street right on the edge of London’s urban development.

Today’s recipe is the strongest indication yet that our unknown ladies kept chickens. And there’s nothing sentimental about our ladies’ attitude: these are no fluffy farmyard pets, but livestock being raised for their eggs and meat. Here we learn an 18th century method for fattening up chickens, presumably for the pot:

The first part of the recipe doesn't sound too bad...

The first part of the recipe doesn’t sound too bad…

...but the idea of 'cramming' the paste rolls down chickens' throats - or 'sticking them behind' - is less appealing

…but it soon becomes less appealing when we’re instructed to ‘cram’ the paste rolls down the chickens’ throats – or ‘stick them behind’.

To Fatten Chickens in 4 Days

Take a pint of wheat, a pint of flower and a qr of a pd of brown sugar. Wet it with warm new milk into a paste. Make them into small rolls & cram down thier throats. Ye last two days, Stick ym behind.

It doesn’t sound like much fun for the chickens. So if you’re thinking of keeping chickens, best refer to modern government guidelines rather than the hints and tips of our unknown ladies!

Salad dressings for summer days

As the warm weather shows no real sign of abating, are you starting to tire of summer salads? Today’s three recipes, taken from Dr Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, offer Regency-era tips for giving your lettuce an extra lease of life.

The first dressing is subtitled the ‘oxoleon’, a word of Hellenistic Greek origin that signifies a mixture of oil and vinegar. The term had fallen out of popular usage by the time The Cook’s Oracle was being compiled, but the archaism is easily explained: Kitchiner lifted both the recipe and its title from an earlier text, John Evelyn’s Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets (1699):

Kitchiner's oxoleon dressing owes much to Evelyn's recipe in his Discourse of Sallets of 1699

Kitchiner’s oxoleon dressing owes much to Evelyn’s recipe in his Discourse of Sallets of 1699

Dressing for a Salad (the oxoleon)

Take a good oyl olive, three parts of vinegar, lemon or orange juice one part, and steep  them in some skins of horseradish & a little salt. Some in a separate vinegar. Bruise a pod of ginny pepper and strain it on the other. Then add as much mustard as will lie on a half crown piece. Beat and mingle these well together with the yolks of two new laid eggs boiled hard, pouring it over your salad.

So faithful is Kitchiner to Evelyn’s work (or plagiaristic, depending on your outlook) that he even retains the wording ‘ginny pepper’. Guinea pepper is nothing more than an early term for Cayenne pepper, an ingredient which Kitchiner uses in a great number of his dishes. As indeed he does in our next recipe, where a dressing for cold meat is spiced up with a hot dash of Cayenne:

A dressing for cold meat or fish, transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

A dressing for cold meat or fish, transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

A Salad or Sauce for Cold Meat, Fish &c.

Pound together an ounce of scraped horseradish, half an ounce of salt, a tablespoonful of made mustard, four drachms of minced eshallots, half a drach of celery seed and half a ditto of Cayenne, adding gradually a pint of vinegar. Let it stand a week in a jar and then pass it through a sieve. The salad mixture much improved by a little jelly of cold meat

And finally we have a creamy, mustard vinaigrette, which can be sweetened or salted to taste:

This dressing with mustard and cream is the most indulgent out of the three. Any surprise that it's our favourite?

This dressing with mustard and cream is the most indulgent out of the three. Any surprise that it’s our favourite?

Boil a couple of eggs twelve minutes. Rub the yolks (when quite cold) through a sieve with a wooden spoon and mix them with a tablespoonful of cream, then add two of oil or melted butter. When well mixed, add by degrees a teaspoonful of salt or powdered lump sugar and the same of made mustard. When united, add three tablespl. of vinegar. Garnish with white of egg.

Carrots, carrets and carriotts: three puddings to tickle the tastebuds

Do you remember our ‘puddings of carriotts‘? It was a curious recipe, which saw carrots hollowed out ‘as children scoope appels’, stuffed with a sweet breadcrumb and spice mixture, and then boiled in a rich red wine gravy.

Food historian Annie Gray made this dish of "carrot puddings" from the 18th century recipe in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Food historian Annie Gray made this dish of “carrot puddings” from our 18th century recipe

There are a further three carrot pudding recipes in the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, but none are quite like these unusual stuffed root veg… The first does bear some resemblance in the some of the spices used, and the way in which the dish treads a delicate line between sweet and savoury. But this time the boiled carrots are pounded down and combined with bone marrow to make a smooth, unctuous pudding:

This 18th century recipe for "carret pudding" is the very first entry in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

This 18th century recipe for “carret pudding” is the very first entry in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Carret Pudding

Take large carrets, boyle them in the pott with your beef, then take two pound of them and beat them in a morter and, when fine, put to them half a pound of sugar, 5 eggs, half a pound of butter or instead of it, seven ounces of marrow, half a nogin of brandy, as much rose water, cloves, mace and cinnamon and nutmeg, candy orange lemon peel.

The next couple are more obviously sweet dishes, using cream rather than the bone marrow to lend the dish its richness. There’s no mention here of the carrots first being boiled with meat, although it is of course possible that this was what was in fact intended. Both of these recipes ask for the pudding to be baked puff pastry:

Another 18th century carrot pudding recipe from the Cookbook

Another 18th century carrot pudding recipe from the Cookbook

To Make a Carriott Pudding Take a penny loaf greated, the same quantity of carriots, boyled and pounded very fine, half a pint of cream boyled & could, half a pd of melted butter, half a pd of sugar, 6 eggs, 3 whites, 2 spoonfulls of brandy, half a nutmeg.  Bake it in wth puff paste about it it in a dish.

This carrot pudding recipe has the most complete instructions of all

This carrot pudding recipe has the most complete instructions of all

To Make a Carrot Pudding When your carrots are well boiled & peeled, weigh a light pound & pound them fine. Beat the yolks of nine eggs very well, a little more then half a pound of sugar, a large teacup of brandy or ratifie. Lay the carrots before the fire, on a dish, to dry for some time. After you pound them & dry the sugar, which makes it lighter, put paste in your dish. When just going in to the oven, melt two ounces of butter in a little cream & put to it & mix all well to gather. Three quarters of an houre baks it.

They might not be as extraordinary as stuffed carrot fingers, but we think these carrot puddings look pretty good fun!

Thinking of giving them a try? If you do, be sure to let us know how you get on… Email us at, or leave a comment here on the blog!