Currant wine

This makes a seriously large amount of currant wine: 86 pounds of sugar to over 100 pints of water and 80 pounds of red or blackcurrants… Wow!

"To make a quarter cask of curran wine": a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“To make a quarter cask of curran wine”: a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Quarter Cask of Curran Wine

86 pds of the best Jamaica sugar

27 half gallons of fine soft cold water

80 pds of pickid whole carrans full ripe

10 eggs put in to the cask hole.

The liquor is put in the caske & 2 qurts of good brandy

Not to be dranke till 4 years old

Brandy was added to fortify the wine, and the eggs to clarify it. The only yeast included in this recipe is that which is found naturally on the fruit skins. But while the list of ingredients looks reasonable enough, the method is minimalist to say the least. For a better idea of what was involved in brewing this kind of fruit wine, this second recipe is worth a look:

Currant Wine

Take 16 pounds of full ripe currants. Break them small, stalks & all, in an earthen pan. Put to them 16 quarts of pipe water. Let it stand 24 hours, stiring it 3 or 4 times. Strain it throw a hair sieve. Then put [for] every four quarts of liquor 3 pounds of ye best Jamaica sugar. Let it stand 2 or 3 days, to work. Then fill up your cask. Save some of the liquor to keep ye vessel full till it done workeing. When it has done working, stope it close. It will be fit to bottle at Christmass.

It’s worth noting that this recipe calls specifically for pipe water rather than the river water used in our Irish Sack recipe – and consequently requires a lot less time in skimming the liquor for scum!

A monster plum pudding at St Marylebone Workhouse

Archivist Jo Buddle explores the extraordinary story of a giant plum pudding and reveals the darker reality of life in Britain’s Victorian workhouses:

Members of the United Cooks' Society preparing a monster plum pudding at Marylebone Workhouse

Members of the United Cooks’ Society preparing a monster plum pudding at Marylebone Workhouse

This image from the Illustrated London News of 3 January 1863 records a ‘monster’ undertaking at Marylebone Workhouse.  It shows a plum pudding being made by the London United Cooks’ Society for cotton workers in Manchester, who were struggling with supply because of the American Civil War. The Marylebone Union lent their boiler and facilities for the job

This was no ordinary plum pudding. The finished pudding was over 10 ft in circumference and the list of ingredients was breathtaking. It contained 130 lb of currants, 130 lb of sultanas, 210 lb of flour, 130 lb of suet, 80 lb of peel, 80 lb of sugar, 1040 eggs, 8 gallons of ale, 4 lb of mixed spice and 1 lb of ground ginger. The final result weighed in at 900lb!

The kitchens at Marylebone Workhouse were well set up for mass catering. At its height, Marylebone workhouse had capacity for 1921 inmates. Its dining room was was 120ft long and the kitchen was equipped accordingly, with two 50 gallon beef-tea boilers and a 200 gallon tea infuser. The potato steamers had a total capacity of three quarters of a ton.

On occasion, at Christmas, inmates at Marylebone might be granted a special meal by the workhouse guardians, supplementing their regular meagre diet with a festive cake or pudding. The usual fare at Marylebone was much more simple, featuring cheap dishes such as pea soup, mutton broth and Irish stew. Food was simple and strictly rationed. 

This view of St Marylebone Workhouse was originally drawn by a pauper inmate of the institution in 1866.

This view of St Marylebone Workhouse was originally drawn by a pauper inmate of the institution in 1866.

Although the Marylebone workhouse did not rank amongst the severest of the poor house institutions, life within it was nevertheless hard and uncomfortable. Those who had lost the means to house and feed themselves turned to the shelter of the workhouse as a very last resort. Men, women and children were segregated and those who were able were expected to work for their living. All able inmates were employed in menial tasks, from stone-breaking to oakum-picking (unravelling old ropes, which would then be sold on to the Navy).

Plan of St Marylebone Workhouse in 1881, showing the separation of male and female dormitories (wards)

Plan of St Marylebone Workhouse in 1881, showing the separation of male and female dormitories (wards)

In some workhouses, the regime descended into cruelty. Rather than providing a living for inmates, the imbalance of exacting physical labour and a nutritionally-poor diet at these institutions was leading to starvation and death. In 1845 a scandal broke out at Andover, where workhouse inmates were found gnawing on animal bones due of a lack of food. 

The work of high-profile campaigners such as Charles Dickens, along with news stories such as the scandal at Andover, led to a growing unease about the workhouse system. By late 19th century it was recognised that the dietary regimes of the nation’s workhouses had to change. From 1900 onwards, workhouse unions were encouraged to provide a more varied and balanced diet for their inmates. In 1901, the distribution of an official workhouse recipe book by the National Training School of Domestic Cookery ensured that workhouse kitchens were producing better meals with greater nutritional value.

In 1930, the system of poor law administration changed and, with the abolition of the Board of Guardians, many workhouses closed or became public assistance institutions. However, many people consider that workhouses didn’t truly disappear until the establishment of a Welfare State and the foundation of our National Health Service in 1948.


A plum pudding for Stir Up Sunday

Christmas may still seem a long way off but today is Stir Up Sunday. The last Sunday before Advent, it’s traditionally the day for preparing Christmas puddings. With a month or so still to go until 25th December, this early preparation gives the puddings ample time to mature before they are served up on Christmas Day.

Here’s an eighteenth-century recipe from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies to give you some inspiration:

A Georgian plum pudding recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Georgian plum pudding recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Receipt to Make a Plum Pudding

Stone one pound of raisons. Add one pound of fresh suet, the yolks and whits of twelve eggs. Beat up very well. When that is don, put in the suet and one naggin of brandy and a nutmeg. Their must be a bout tow spoonfulls of fower mixed with the raisins and the must be put in the last. It well take at least four hours boyling. Their must be too spoonfull of brown sugar.

Apple pudding, two ways…

If you’ve enjoyed a bumper crop of apples this year, you’re probably still trying to find good recipes for using them up. If you’ve already had your fill of apple pie and have stocked up your cupboards with apple jams and jellies, then here are another two ways with apples for you to try…

Recipe for Boston Apple Pudding, as transcribed from The Cook's Oracle in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Regency recipe for Boston Apple Pudding, transcribed by our Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s  The Cook’s Oracle

Boston Apple Pudding

Peel one dozen and a half of good apples. Take out the cores, cut them small, put into a stewpan that will just hold them with a little water, a little cinnamon, two cloves and the peel of a lemon. Stir over a slow fire till quite soft. Then sweeten with moist sugar and pass it through a hair sieve. Add to it the yolks of four eggs and one white, a quarter of a pound of good butter, half a nutmeg, the peel of a lemon grated and the juice of one lemon. Beat all well together. Line the inside of a pie dish with puff paste and bake half an hour.

Georgian recipe for Baked Apple Pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Georgian recipe for Baked Apple Pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Baked Apple Pudding

Take twelve […] large pippins. Coddle them over ye fire very slowly that they do not crack. When the are soft, peel, core them & pulp them through a cullander. Add to this three sponfuls of orange flower water, ten eggs well beat, all ye whites left out & strained, ½ a pound of butter melted. Make it very sweet. Grate the peel of two lemons & the juic of one. Half a hour will bake it.

And, if you’re still in need of inspiration, why not take a look back at another  apple pudding recipe we shared earlier in the year, which uses cream and crushed biscuits. One of our readers, Catherine, gave it a go – you can see the results by taking a look at her Georgian puddings, recreated

Sweet treats from the Georgian kitchen

Today we take a look at two sugary treats.

The first is for ‘clear cakes’, little jellies with a sugar crust which were generally made of fruit juice finely powdered sugar. They could be cut into any number of decorative shapes – lozenges, rounds, squares – and incorporate any number of flavourings.

Our recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is a twist on these traditional clear cakes. Instead of fruit juice, pounded almonds provide the main substance of these sweets. Rosewater is added for flavour:

18th century recipe for almond clear cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for almond clear cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Almond Clear Caks

Boyle the sugar to a candy height as you do for Clear Caks. Blansh some Jordon almonds & pound them [with] rose water. Mix them in yr candy as you do jelly. Put it in pans or cards in yr stove to dry, or in a very cool oven.

Our second recipe is derived from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle and presents something a familiar to us today: caramel.

Without sugar thermometers, cooks needed to gauge the temperature of the sugar by sight . A quick way to check it was to drop a little of the melted sugar in cold water. It it went hard and solid, it was said to be at ‘the degree called crack’.

This caramel was intended for use as a kind of ‘spun sugar’. Cast in thin threads over an oiled mould to form a decorative sugar cage, it could be placed over ‘small pastry of any description’ to give it a stylish finish.

This caramel is used to form spun sugar decorations. The original recipe was published in Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

This caramel is used to form spun sugar decorations. The original recipe was published in Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

To Boil Sugar to Caramel

Break into a small copper or brass pan one pound of refined sugar. Put in a gill of spring water. Set it on a fire and when it boils skim it quite clear and let it boil quick till it comes to the degree called crack which may be known by dipping a teaspoon or skewer into the sugar and let it drop to the bottom of a pan of cold water. If it remains hard, it has attained that degree. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and let it remain one minute longer on the fire, then set the pan in another of cold water. Have ready moulds of any shape. Rub them over with sweet oil. Dip a spoon or fork into the sugar and throw it over the mould, in fine threads, till it is quite covered. Make a small handle of caramel or stick on two or three small gum paste rings by way of ornament and place it over small pastry of any description.

If you do have a go at either of today’s recipe, do be careful when you boil the sugar as it will become extremely hot. To avoid burns, make sure you follow the caramel recipe’s advice: cool the sugar for a few moments before you handle it by placing it another pan of cold water.

A masterclass in simplicity

One of the tenets of modern gastronomy is simplicity: allowing good ingredients to take centre stage.

Today’s recipes reveal the Georgians as the masters of this art. There are no lengthy lists of ingredients, complicated cooking processes or extravagant proposals for presentation. Instead, we are offered a masterclass in moderation, as even the cheapest meat and fish are given the space to shine on the plate. 

The first recipe, for lamb stove or stew, comes from William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle. With a little parsley and onion and a good helping of spinach and beef stock, lamb’s head and lungs are turned into a warming winter stew:

Regency recipe for Lamb Stove. Our unknown ladies borrowed this recipe from Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

Regency recipe for Lamb Stove. Our unknown ladies borrowed this recipe from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

Lamb Stove or Lamb Stew

Take a lambs head & lights. Open the jaws of the head and wash them thoroughly. Put them in pot with some beef stock made with three quarts of water and two pounds of shin of beef strained. Boil very slowly for an hour. Wash and string two or three good handfuls of spinach. Put it in twenty minutes before serving. Add a little parsley & one or two onions a short time before it comes off the fire. Season with pepper & salt & serve in a tureen.

Next comes herring pie, a simple dish of seasoned herrings, onion and butter in a puff pastry shell:

18th century recipe for 'Herring Pye' from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for ‘Herring Pye’ from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Herring Pye

Season yr herrings with pepper & salt. Put a good deal of sliced onion with then & good store of butter. Soe bake them in puff paste & eat them hot.

And finally, water souchy. The dish’s curious name comes from the Dutch waterzootje, and it seems possible that this soup may have become enshrined in the English culinary repertoire around the time of William of Orange’s accession to the throne in 1689. Today, the Belgians still enjoy a traditional fish stew known as waterzooi.

The version of water souchy given in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is another recipe taken from Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle. Flounder, whiting, gudgeon and eel are suggested as suitable fish varieties for the soup, but other fish could also be used according to availability: 

William Kitchiner's recipe for water souchy, a fish broth, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

William Kitchiner’s recipe for water souchy, a fish broth, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Water Souchy

Is made with flounders, whitings, gudgeons or eels. They must be quite fresh & nicely cleaned, for what they are boiled in makes the sauce. Wash, gut & trim your fish. Cut them into handsome pieces. Put them into a stewpan with as much water as will cover them, with some parsley, an onion minced, a little pepper & salt. Some add scraped horseradish and a bay leaf. Skim it carefully when it boils. When done enough, (which will be in a few minutes) send it up in a deep dish with bread sippets and some slices of bread & butter on a plate.


Revisiting sago…

Sago pudding… If you were at school in Britain in the ’50s and ’60s, the very mention of it may be enough to send shivers down the spine. Sago pudding, semolina pudding and tapioca pudding were all regulars on the school dinner  menu and, while some remember them fondly, many others have been put off these puddings for life by the gloopy versions they were confronted with as a child.

It’s a shame, as sago pudding is highly nutritious and, cooked well, serves as the perfect comfort food. If you’re brave give sago another go, why not start with this 18th century version from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies?

This sago pudding is prepared ‘an excellent way’ with flavourings of orange and lemon peel, cinnamon and brandy:

An 18th century style sago pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An 18th century style sago pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Segoe Pudding an Excellent Way

Take 2 handfulls of segoe & boyle it in just as much water as will cover it, stiring it while it is boyleing least it burn. Dont boyle it longer than till it is thick. Take 8 eggs, beat them with a qr of brown sugar. When yr segoe is cold, put it to them & some pounded cinnimon, a large spoonful of pounded orange & lemon peel, 2 spoonfulls of brandy, half a pd of melted butter. Let it cool. Mix all well together & besur[e] stir it well as it goos in the oven lest the segoe settle to the bottom. An hour bakes it in a slow oven.

Sago is derived from the pith of a palm tree, native to India and South East Asia. The Elizabethan Explorer Sir Francis Drake is said to have been one of the first Britons to experience the harvesting and preparation of sago on the eastern Indonesian island of Ternate. A written record by Francis Pretty, one of Drake’s attendants on his voyage around the world, states that the local people there gave them

meal, which they call sagu, made of the tops of certain trees, tasting in the mouth like sour curds, but melteth like sugar, whereof they make certain cakes, which may be kept the space of ten years, and yet then good to be eaten.

Our next starch pudding is based on an ingredient found closer to home: millet. This cereal was widely eaten by the peasantry of continental Europe and was generally considered as a food of the poor. However, in the 18th century millet puddings became rather fashionable in British kitchens.

This Georgian recipe shows how millet was appropriated for the middle classes. The pudding is enriched with large quantities of eggs, butter and cream: ingredients which would have put it out of reach of the labouring classes. Delicate flavourings of nutmeg and sweet bay (‘lawrell’) water lent an additional veneer of sophistication:

A Georgian-era recipe for millet pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Georgian-era recipe for millet pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Millet Pudding

Take a handfull of millet, boyle it a little in a pint of water. Then, after you have taken it of the fire, stir in to it whilst it is hot 2 large prints of butter, a whole nutmeg, some sugar to your taste. Set it by to coole. When it is quite cold, put in 12 eggs and but half the whites, a pint of sweet cream boyled & mix all these well together. An hour boyls it. A boyled rice pudding is the same way but pound the rice & put in a little lawrell water.