To make pigeons look like puffins

Puffin has long disappeared from English culinary repertoire. The birds are now a protected species in the UK, and emotions run high when it comes to eating them abroad. In 2008, television show The F Word followed Gordon Ramsay to Iceland, where he learned to hunt puffins using traditional methods and sampled raw puffin heart. In response, UK media regulator Ofcom received 42 complaints.

There were no such sensibilities back in the Georgian era. People had been enjoying pickled puffin, without scruple, for centuries. In fact, the British taste for puffin dated back to the Middle Ages. With much of its life spent in and on the water, medieval theologians classified the seabird as a fish. As a result it could be enjoyed on fasting days and throughout the period of Lent, when eating meat was prohibited.

In the 18th and 19th centuries,  pickled puffin became a very fashionable food. Over the centuries, the inclusion of puffin meat at state banquets and royal feasts – such as the coronation dinner of King James II – had elevated the dish’s status to that of gastronomic delicacy. Pickling was a practical way of preparing and serving the bird. Not only did it help to preserve the meat, but it also went some way to mask the powerful fishy taste.

For those without a steady supply of fresh puffin, or who could not afford to buy the pickled meat, pigeon meat was an economical alternative:

"To make pigeons look like puffins", an early 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“To make pigeons look like puffins”, an early 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Bone yr pigeons begining at the neck. Take every bone out without breaking the skin. Then stuf the cram with a little sweet herbs & nutmeg. Sew them up, throw them into a pan of boyling water & let them boyle a little. Then have some strong mutton greavy with a cut onion, some blades of mace, half a pint of vinigar, a few bay leaves. Put the pigeons in. Let them boyle till the are done, then take them out & lay lay them in a cro[k]. Boyle the lqr a little longer. When cold, put to the pigeons, cover them close. If you keep them any time, boyle the pickle again & put it to them when cold.

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To stew pears red

After our quince pye recipe, here’s another way with autumn fruits.

This recipe specifies the use of warden pears, a common name for a varieties of firm-fleshed, sour-tasting pears, which need to be cooked before they can be eaten. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the name may have come from the French verb garder, ‘to keep’ and a quote from Gervase Markham’s manual on farming seems to support this theory:

Your stone-Peare, Warden-Peare, and choake-Peare [are] those which indure longest

The English Husbandman (1613)

However, others believe the name comes from the Bedfordshire village of Old Warden, where a community of monks are said to have cultivated the pears in medieval times.

Traditional varieties of cooking pear include the Black Worcester and the Catillac, but unless you’ve got these trees in your garden or have easy access to a good farmers’ market, you may need to resort to whatever you can find in the supermarket. Bosc pears are meant to be good at holding their shape but slightly under-ripe conference pears should also be a good fall-back.

How to Stew Pears Red

Take a qr of a hundred of warden pears & split them in halves or leave them whole as you like best & throw them in clean cold water as you pair them. Let them lye an hour in it, then stick a clove in every piece & put them in a stew pan with a good deal of water a bout them. Let em boyle a little, then put in a drahm of cutchinele pounded & a bit of allom ye bigness of a wallnut pounded, a stick of cinnamon & some blads of mace. Then let them boyle till very soft but take care doant brake. Take up ye pears & strain ye liquor & put in ye pears a gain & a pound of double refind sugar. Let them boyle quick till ye sirrup is very rich. Serve them hot or cold.

"How to stew pears red": a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“How to stew pears red”: a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

The red colouring for this recipe comes from pounded ‘cutchinele’ (cochineal), tiny insects from Central America. The egg yolks and dried bodies of the females yield a bright red dye, also known as carmine. If the idea of crushed cochineal bugs makes you squeamish, most supermarkets offer synthetic food colourings which would also do the trick.

The alum (‘allom’) in this recipe is a chemical compound, and it is still used today as preservative, notably in pickles. A lot of 18th century bread also included alum to keep it white and fresh. Alum powder can be bought from many Indian groceries, but the sugar content in the syrup alone should help to preserve the pears for a little while.

A quince pye

A very short but sweet recipe for quince pie:

A Georgian recipe for quince pie from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

A Georgian recipe for quince pie from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

A Quince Pye

First pare them & core them & half bake them as you do pears. Then lay them in yr pye with sirrop of black berrys & no other liquour, some shread orange peel that has bee boyled tender & some stiks of cinnimo[n]. Appels are good don this way in a pye.

Quinces are quite astringent in flavour, but our unknown ladies would have added plenty of sugar to the fruit before ‘half baking’ them like pears. There are only three additional ingredients – blackberry syrup, orange zest and cinnamon sticks – but each brings a distinctive flavour, making for an aromatic filling.

As so often with recipes in the Cookbook, there are many omissions in the method. How much blackberry syrup? How many cinnamon sticks? And, most significantly, there is no mention at all of pastry!

We’d suggest using a shortcrust pastry for this dish. About 1kg of quinces should make enough filling for a generous family pie, and you’d need about 100g or so of sugar to offset their tartness (reduce the sugar somewhat if you’re substituting apples for quinces). As for the berry syrup, orange and cinnamon, It is really down to personal taste. When you’re satisfied with your flavour balance and have sealed the filling with a shortcrust lid, we think 1 hour at 180°C should do the trick.

Portable soup

Portable soup was the Regency equivalent of the modern-day stock cube.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that companies such as Oxo started mass-producing dehydrated stock. Before then, most households had prepared fresh stock from scratch and, in cases where a preserved supply was needed, made their own cubes of ‘portable soup’. This recipe, transcribed from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, shows how it was done:

A Regency recipe for 'portable soup', transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

A Regency recipe for ‘portable soup’, transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

Portable Soup or Glaze

Break the bones of a leg or shin of beef, 10 lbs weight. Put it in a digester, cover it with cold water, set it on the fire to heat gradually till it nearly boils. This should be an hour. Skim carefully, pour in a little cold water to throw up the rest. Let it boil again and again. Skim carefully when it appears clear (put in neither roots, herbs nor salt). Let it boil for eight or ten hours and then strain into a brown stone pan. Set the broth where it will cool quickly. Put the meat into a sieve. Let it drain – make potted beef – next day remove every particle of fat from the top and pour it through a fine sieve, as quietly as possible, into a stewpan, taking care not to let any of the settlings go into the stewpan. Add a quarter of an ounce of whole black pepper. Let it boil briskly, uncovered, on a quick fire. Take off all scum when it begins to thicken & is reduced to about a quart. Put it in a smaller stewpan, set it over a gentle fire till reduced to the thickness of a very thick syrup. Take care it does not burn. Try a little out in a spoon. If it sets into jelly, it is done. If not, boil a little till it does. Have some little pots an inch & half deep. Take care they are quite dry.

The ‘digester’ in which this jellied stock would have been prepared was a forerunner of today’s pressure cookers, and would have certainly helped to speed up the cooking down of the beef bones. Nevertheless, preparing portable soup was a laborious process. As it formed, the stock needed to be regularly skimmed of fat – the smallest amount could otherwise turn rancid over time and badly affect the taste of the finished product.

Prepared with care and stored in a dry place, this kind of jellied bouillon could be kept for some time. When needed, the cubes would be quickly reconstituted into soup with the addition of boiling water, herbs and seasoning. Who needs Pot Noodle when you have portable soup?

To collar meat

We last looked at ‘collaring’ when we put together a Regency menu of beef and Yorkshire pudding for St George’s Day. Today’s first two recipes use the same technique of tightly rolling and binding meat, which is then pickled for use at a later date.

Nowadays, brawn (in its culinary sense) is often used to refer to a jellied preparation of pig’s head and tongue. In this Georgian recipe for collared brawn, it refers to the raw head meat. The meat is stripped from the skull before being salted, seasoned and boiled in a vinegar solution. Then, rolled up tightly in cloth, it is steeped in a strong pickle until tender and ready for use:

An 18th century recipe for collaring and pickling brawn from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An 18th century recipe for collaring and pickling brawn from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Collar Brawn

Take a quarter of brawn, lay it in salt three days. Then take some all spice, cloves & mace & season it. Boyle it in a cloath very soft with some vinegar, salt & water till it be tender. Then rowl it over new with another cloath & fresh tape as hard as possible. Then let it be cold. Then boyle yr pickle with some brawn with a little fresh water. Let it be cold & keep ye brawn constantly in it tyed up. Make fresh liquor once a fortnight.

A very similar method is used to prepare breast of veal:

18th century recipe "to collar a breast of veal" from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

18th century recipe “to collar a breast of veal” from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

To Collar a Breast of Veal

Bone a large breast of veal, wash it clean, soak it in 2 or 3 waters. Dry it well. Season it with salt, pepper, cloves & mace, some sweet herbs. Dip it all over in a batter of eggs. Roll it up hard in a cloth. Boyle it in salt & water, vinigar & allspice. Boyle it well & skim it. Take out yr collar & keep it in this pickle when both are cold.

But collared meat needn’t be pickled at all. In the following recipe for mutton collars, the meat is served up hot in a rich, flavoursome gravy with a colourful garnish of lemon and red cabbage. There’s also an innovative technique for keeping the mutton moist: it is baked in a pot along with white bread and water and sealed with a pastry lid:

This 18th century recipe for collaring mutton creates a colourful impression of work in the Georgian kitchen

This 18th century recipe for collaring mutton creates a colourful impression of work in the Georgian kitchen

Mutton Collars

Take a breast & neck of mutton, bone it, spread it on ye dresser. Take ye yolks of 3 eggs boyled hard & shred small, half a lemon peel shread, 3 anchoves shred, some shives, thyme, some pepper & allspice pounded. Strow these all over ye in side of ye meat but first rub ye in side with the white of an egg. Then clap the breast on the neck & roll ym up hard with a tape & cloth in a collar. Bake it in a crok with white bread, fill’d up with water & cover’d with paste. When it coms out, take it out of ye crok & let it lye till next day in ye cloth. Then take it out & cut it in 3 collars the height of yr hand. Then toss up a sauce of strong greavy, white wine, anchoves shred, lemon peel & onion, thyme & parsley, pepper, all spice, a lump of butter roll’d in flower. Toss these up together, then heat the collars in it. You must have a good deal of liquor, for you must allow for waste in heating yr collars. Garnish yr dish with slices of lemon & red cabbage.

There’s some lovely imagery in this recipe – the meat being spread out on the kitchen dresser, the ‘clap’ as one cut is laid on the other for rolling… Further clues as to what work was like in the kitchens of our ‘unknown ladies’.