A Skirret Pye

We know what you’re thinking… what on Earth is a skirret?!

Sium sisarum, commonly known as skirret, is a root vegetable in the Umbelliferae family of plants. The skirret plant grows clusters of long, knobbly, edible roots, which can grow up to a metre or so in length. Each individual root looks a little like a parsnip or carrot in appearance and, when cooked, has a firm texture and a sweet, nutty taste.

Although almost unheard of in British supermarkets today, the skirret is surprisingly easy to grow. It is a perennial plant and is resistant to cold as well as to many pests. It is therefore little wonder that the skirret was a staple food in Medieval Britain.

Following the introduction of the potato to the British diet in the late 16th century, the popularity of skirret declined. By the early 1700s skirrets were being used less widely and by the turn of the 19th century they had disappeared from most recipe books altogether. Our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies suggests just one dish using the vegetable: skirret  pie.

18th century recipe for skirret pie from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for skirret pie from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Skirret Pye

Take the largest skirrets you can get & parboyle them & peel them & season them with cinnimon & powder sugar & put them in a dish with a good deal of fresh butter & some sliced citron & candid orange peel & candid eringoroot, 3 spoonfulls of rose water, 4 of white wine, some Jerusalem hartichokes boyled & sliced. Make it with cold butter paste. When it coms out of the oven, have ready a caudle made of half a pint of sack, some sugar & nutmeg & the yolks of 4 eggs & a print of butter poured on it very hot & the lid laid on it again.

There’s a fantastic article about skirrets in the Food History Jottings blog, complete with photos of an impressive reconstruction of a 17th century skirret pie. Well worth a look!

Orange Cream

If this orange cream is any bit as delicious as the lemon version created by our Cooking Up History team, then it’s well worth a try!

A Georgian recipe for orange cream from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Georgian recipe for orange cream from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Orange Cream

Take the juce of 4 sivil oranges & let half a pint of water be poured over night to the peels greated, & in the morning strain it to yr juce. Take the yolks of 5 eggs & 2 whites. Beat them very well with a qr of a pd of loaf sugar. Stir them into yr juce & water, then strain it into a sliver skillet & stir it continually one way till it be pritty thick. Take it of & stir into it the bigness of a walnut of fresh butter till you cant see it. Then put it in cups. You may sometimes put white wine insteed of water.

Peristaltic Persuaders

Our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies contains quite a number of home remedies, tackling anything from rheumy eyes to whooping cough. Today’s recipes take on common but uncomfortable ailments. The first up is the wonderfully titled ‘peristaltic persuaders’, Dr Kitchiner’s cure for constipation:

These "peristaltic persuaders" contain a laxative, rhubarb, would have been taken in cases of constipation

These “peristaltic persuaders” contain a laxative, rhubarb, would have been taken in cases of constipation

To Make Forty Peristaltic Persuaders

Turkey rhubarb, finely pulverized, two drachms
Syrup, by weight, one drachm
Oil of caraway, ten drops (minims.)
Make into pills, each of which will contain three grains of rhubarb.
Two or three to be taken according to the constitution.

Rhubarb was a well known laxative, and was easy to get hold of. It was even sold by itinerant street traders in Regency London. To find out more, check out our ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb‘ post.

The next recipe claims to combat ‘gravel’ – that is, pain experienced when passing urine, sometimes due to crystalline deposits. Ouch!

"For Ye Gravel": an 18th century home remedy from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“For Ye Gravel”: an 18th century home remedy from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

For Ye Gravel

Take two table spoonfuls of syrup of march mallows & one spoonfull of oyle of sweet almonds in half a pint of spring water, every morning before breakfast & every night going to bed for thirty one days & nights without missing a dose. You may warm the water a little if you chuse, but dont boile it.

As with all our Georgian recipes, please don’t try these at home! If you’re suffering from either of the above ailments, best check in with your doctor or pharmacist for modern medical advice.

Thank you!

Over the last few months, some of our friends in the Blogosphere have kindly nominated us for blogging awards.

This thank you is well overdue, but we’d like to take this opportunity to show our gratitude to Snail of Happiness,  who nominated us for a Super Sweet Blogger Award, Aneela of The Odd Pantry, who nominated us for a Liebster Award, and Transplanted Cook, whose Sunshine Award also brightened our day! Do take a moment to look through their blogs: they are well worth a visit!

If you’d like to find out a bit more about us, you’ll find 7 facts about Westminster City Archives – with pictures! – in an earlier blog post. Many other websites have inspired us while researching and writing about the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, and we’d like to extend our thanks to them too. Here are some of the sites which have captured our imagination:

The History Kitchen

Tori Avey’s beautifully produced blog is full of fascinating articles on how we came to eat the dishes we enjoy today. Tori has also put together collections of ‘vintage’ and ‘literary’ recipes to try at home. We particularly like the sound of the ‘Smoking Bishop’ drink, a hot spiced punch drink mentioned in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol!

The Cook and the Curator

Sydney Living Museums are behind this fantastic site, bringing together cook Jacqui Newling and curator Scott Hill in an exciting collaboration to explore the way we ate and lived in times gone by. There are lots of historic recipes to try, but we also recommend taking a look at their articles on he development of dining conventions and the ‘lost arts’ of cookery. A great insight into the way our ancestors lived and ate.

NPR – The Salt

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies featured on this site some months ago… National Public Radio’s food blog ‘The Salt’ brings you the latest news in gastronomy, including some intriguing discoveries and investigations into our food traditions. From the Roman roots of fish sauce to why we colour cheeses, it’s a really eye-opener!

Guildhall Library Blog

The Guildhall Library’s online newsletter acts as a showcase for their wonderful collections on London history, including special collections on wine and food. A recent article shares an 1808 recipe for Twelfth Night Cake


Keep up-to-date with the latest exhibitions and publications on 18th century history with the Enfilade blog. Well worth subscribing to!

Bite from the Past

This blog exudes enthusiasm, and it is infectious! Just as good for exploring the recipes of Jane Austen’s day as it is for raising awareness of lost dishes from the more recent past. The blog is beautifully illustrated with photographs, showing the principal steps of each recipe.

Bogberry pudding

If you have any cranberries left over from Christmas Day, this recipe for a ‘bog berry’ pudding offers a tasty way of using them up!

This 18th century recipe is a great way to use up your Christmas leftovers: for bogberries, use cranberries.

This 18th century recipe is a great way to use up your Christmas leftovers: for ‘bog berries’, use cranberries.

A Bog Berry Pudding

Take to quarts of bog berrys and put them in a brass skilett with half a pint of water and let them stew for an hour kieping them stiring untill the be very soft. Then strain them through a fine cloath. Then put your liquire back unto your skillet with a pound of white sugar and let it boyle for half an hour. When cold, mix it up with the yolks of eight eggs, pounded cinnamon, nutmeg and mace, 2 spoonfulls of rose water, a glass of sack, lemon peel shread small with half a pinte of melted butter. Put unto your dish, with past about the brim. An hour will bake it.

A Christmas dinner with all the trimmings

A roast turkey dinner, 18th century style! This spit-roasted bird is stuffed with a tasty chicken forcemeat and served up with a rich white wine gravy, flavoured with anchovies, oysters, celery, mushrooms, artichokes and mace.

A Georgian recipe for spit-roast turkey with a rich white wine and oyster gravy

A Georgian recipe for spit-roast turkey with a rich white wine and oyster gravy

A Forc’d Turkey

Take a large turkey. After a day kild, slit it down ye back, & bone it & then wash it. Clean stuf it as much in ye shape it was as you can with forc’d meat made of 2 pullits yt has been skin’d, 2 handfulls of crumbs of bread, 3 handfulls of sheeps sewit, some thyme, & parsley, 3 anchoves, some pepper & allspice, a whole lemon sliced thin, ye seeds pick’d out & minced small, a raw egg. Mix all well together stuf yr turkey & sow it up nicely at ye back so as not to be seen. Then spit it & rost it with paper on the breast to preserve ye coler of it nicely. Then have a sauce made of strong greavy, white wine, anchoves, oysters, mushrooms slic’d, salary first boyl’d a littile, some harticholk bottoms, some blades of mace, a lump of butter roll’d in flower. Toss up all together & put ym in yr dish. Don’t pour any over ye turkey least you spoyl ye coler. Put ye gisard & liver in ye wings. Put sliced lemon & forc’d balls for garnish.

Bread sauce for turkeys: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Bread sauce for turkeys: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Bread Sause for Turkeys

Take stale bread & crumble it in as much water as will cover it. Shred a large onion in it & a little pepper, then give it a scald to heat & soften it. Then put as much cream as will make it very white, a little bit of butter, & set it over ye fire & let it stew, stirring it all ye while till you see it look thick & taste well.

How about some vegetables? This recipe for creamed celery would add a touch of indulgence to the meal:

Take your sallary and cut it small. Then boyle it tender in fair water. Then take it and stew it in fresh cream and a little nutmeg. And when it is so stewd, put in a little white wine and gravy and melted butter as you think proper, and so serve it up.

And here are two suggestions borrowed from the Regency cookery writer Dr William Kitchiner. Red beetroot will bring some colour to the plate, while ‘potato snow’ sounds fitting for a winter-time feast…

Red Beet Roots

Are dressed as carrots but neither scraped nor cut till after they are boiled. They will take from an hour & half to three hours in boiling. Send to table with salt fish, boiled beef &c.

Potato Snow

The potatoes must be free from speck[s] and white. Put them on in cold water. When they begin to crack, strain them and put them in a clean stewpan by the side of the fire till they are quite dry and fall to pieces. Rub them thro’ a wire sieve on the dish they are to be sent up in, and do not disturb them.

Merry Christmas to all of our Cookbook followers! xxx

Winter remedies

The Georgian cookbook of our unknown ladies was not only used to record recipes for puddings, pies and other dishes for the dining table. The ladies also noted down home cures for a number of ailments. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the medicines they may have turned to when winter started to bite.

As with other the medicinal recipes in the Cookbook, we’d advise you not to try these ones at home!

The first is for watery eyes, a common ailment when out and about in bitter winds. Our ladies advise the following remedy:

A Georgian remedy for watery eyes, recorded in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Georgian remedy for watery eyes, recorded in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

For Weak Eyes That Run Water

A pint of rose water, ten grains of white powder of vitriol. Wash frequently with it.

White vitriol, otherwise known as zinc sulphate, inhibits the production of eye secretions and is still used in eye drops today. The rosewater would have been selected not only for its fragrance, but also for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Our next remedy is attributed to a ‘Dr Mackbride’. The identity of this physician is as mysterious as that of our unknown ladies, but the following recipe shares one of his treatments for a cold:

Remedy for a cold, attributed to a Dr Mackbride

Remedy for a cold, attributed to a Dr Mackbride

Dr Mackbride for a cold

Tow [two] spoonfuls of rum
Tow ditto clarifyed honey
Tow ditto lemmon juice
Tow ditto sweet oyle

This remedy was unlikely to cure the common cold, but the measures of rum and honey may have gone some way to brighten the patient’s spirits!