Closing the book

With Tuesday’s Georgian pancake recipes, our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies project draws to a close…

We have had a wonderful time discovering the dishes in this extraordinary manuscript. Working through the Cookbook’s varied recipes has brought us closer to understanding the way our ancestors lived and worked. From lavish royal banquets to the harsh workhouse diet, from the noisy cries of London’s itinerant street traders to the semi-rural idyll of its market gardens, our Unknown Ladies’ recipes inspired us to delve deeper into our city’s Georgian past. What’s more, we’ve been able to to enjoy some tasty eighteenth and nineteenth-century treats along the way.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment on our recipes and articles throughout the project, and to those of you who bravely gave the recipes a go at home. It has been a privilege to share this adventure with you.

Special thanks goes to Annie Gray who provided invaluable advice and support throughout the project, and even tried out a rather gungy and gooey cow heel recipe on our behalf! We are also indebted to Maya Pieris, Alycia Smith-Howard and Janet Ing Freeman, all of whom contributed insightful and delightful articles on British food history.

And finally, we are hugely grateful to our merry band of volunteers, the Cooking Up History Group.

We hope you have enjoyed the project as much as we have.  If you have any questions about the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies or this project, get in touch with the team at Westminster City Archives: archives@westminster.gov.uk.

The Cooking Up History Sessions – 7: Shrove Tuesday pancakes

‘Dutches of Cleaveland’ Pancakes versus Pancakes and Fritters 

Christina and David were once again the willing volunteers who joined Kim and Trish for our seventh cooking challenge. And what better way to celebrate Shrove Tuesday than with a cook-off with two unique takes on the classic pancake.

The Duchess of Cleveland’s pancakes

Beginning our pancake cook off with a recipe for the ‘Dutches of Cleaveland’ pancakes, we were struck by the quantity of eggs and butter involved – eight eggs in one batter? The quantities were overwhelming!  We decided to downsize the recipe, roughly halving each of the quantities. While we beat up the batter, David regaled us with tales of the Duchess of Cleveland, Barbara Villiers; a Catholic who maintained an infamous relationship with Charles II as his mistress from 1660 to 1668.

Getting busy with the batter for 'Dutches of Cleaveland' pancakes

Getting busy with the batter for ‘Dutches of Cleaveland’ pancakes

We mixed the batter thoroughly; David expertly folding the butter into our mixture. With this completed and our pan heated, Trish was given responsibility for flipping our pancake. Our first attempt stuck stubbornly to the pan, even though there was a good deal of butter in the mixture. We were dry frying the batter as the recipe suggested, but it seemed to be ruining our chances of getting the perfect pancake flip! Thankfully, things got better… the second and third batches were easier to cook now that the pan had been ‘seasoned’ by our first fritter.

As the pancake was cooking, Christina remarked that neither of our recipes made no mention of lemons or oranges – nowadays we are so used to having pancakes served up with a squeeze of lemon juice a little grate orange zest. We had a chat about our expectations, all agreeing that it was easiest to picture the end result when we could compare the Georgian dishes to a modern day equivalent. David, however, raised the point that the modern pancakes were were used to would inevitably colour our opinion of these historical recipes.

Our Duchess of Cleveland pancakes turned a lovely golden brown but proved difficult to flip!

Our Duchess of Cleveland pancakes turned a lovely golden brown but proved difficult to flip!

Chatting over, it was time for the tasting! The pancake looked appetising but, served up on its own, it was not sweet enough for us. David compared it to a ‘mini Yorkshire pudding’ in both taste and texture, and wondered whether this was now what we’d regard as a pudding pancake. We were glad that no additional butter had been added to the pan as the result was rather oily.

Furthermore, with no definite measure of nutmeg in the recipe we felt this flavour was a little muted in this first attempt. Were our palates missing the stronger flavours of perfumed rose water from other recipes?! We decided to add an additional sprinkle of nutmeg to each subsequent batch of batter we cooked, and with some success: it considerably enhanced the flavour.

Pancakes and Fritters

Our 19th century style pancake on the stove

Our 19th century style pancake on the stove

Our second batch of pancakes was inspired by a 19th century recipe with the title ‘Pancakes and Fritters’, sourced again from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. The recipe allowed a ‘walnut’ of butter to be used in the pan, but contained no butter in the actual mixture. Our pancake flipping was eased by this additional butter – Trish making many successful flips – but unfortunately the end result was a much drier affair and almost rubbery in texture. We added sugar and lemon to this round of pancakes to enliven the taste and bring our own traditional view of pancakes into the mix.

We turned our 19th century style pancake into something more familiar to our palates by adding a sprinkling of lemon juice and sugar

We turned our 19th century style pancake into something more familiar to our palates by adding a sprinkling of lemon juice and sugar

With pancakes such a well-loved treat in Britain today, our Unknown Ladies had a lot to live up to. Our Cooking Up History group enjoyed comparing our recipes with the pancakes we’ve re so used to today. Although both recipes had their pros and cons, we definitely felt the second batch of ‘Pancakes and Fritters’ was the more successful of the two. If you’re tempted to have a go at the Georgian pancake challenge, try out one of our recipes today!

A delicious late addition: gnocchi di latte

This recipe for gnocchi di latte is the latest of all the recipes recorded in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Properly speaking, it isn’t an integral part of the book: it was recorded on two separate sheets, which were then pasted onto the book’s endpapers. The handwriting and spellings are more modern in appearance than most examples in the book and the recipe itself, with its precise measurements and timings and helpful hints and tips, reads as if it could have been lifted straight out of a contemporary cookery magazine.

Our guess is that this recipe dates from the last couple of decades of the 19th century. We wonder whether its author was a descendant of the Cookbook’s Georgian contributors…

This recipe for gnocchi di latte is pasted onto the endpapers of our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

This recipe for gnocchi di latte is pasted onto the endpapers of our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Gnocchi di Latte

Take a quart of new milk, the yolks of 8 eggs, ½ lb of sifted loaf sugar, 2 tablespoonsful of corn flour. Grate some rind of a lemon into a bason and mix well together the above ingredients (be sure the yolks of the eggs are well beaten). Put into a saucepan to boil for ten minutes, keeping well stirred all the time to prevent curdling. When done, pour out on a flat board well floured. Let it stay till cold. Then, cut into squares or diamond shapes to be laid on a flat dish in layers, each layer to be sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, fresh butter & a little ground cinnamon. Bake a delicate brown colour in the oven.

We found it best to make the night before and cut the next day.