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.

The Cooking Up History Sessions – 6: festive fare

Before we knew it, Advent was upon us and it was time for us to roll out some mince pies and mulled wine for our final Cooking Up History Session this year. Our seasoned cookery volunteers Christina and David joined us to create Lemon Caudle and Mammas Mince Pyes from our Georgian-era Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. We were also delighted to welcome food historian Annie Gray to our session. With a professional in our midst, we were keen to show off the knowledge and skills we’d accumulated over the past year, as well as learning some new tips on historic cookery.

Our mincemeat pies were based on the recipe for Mammas Mince Pyes in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Our mincemeat pies were based on the recipe for Mammas Mince Pyes in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

We began with our mince pies. The recipe was met with some hesitancy by the group, as the list of ingredients included a rather hefty amount of beef tongue. Fruit, spice, sugar… and meat? It challenged our preconceived idea of a mince pie should be! But Annie allayed our fears, telling us that once we’d tasted a proper mince meat pie, we’d never want to go back to modern shop bought ones. We determined to stay true to our 18th century ladies and forged ahead with the recipe.

David kicked off our mince pie preparation by shredding the ox tongue

David kicked off our mince pie prep by shredding the ox tongue

David began dicing our meat: cured ox tongue. We’d decided against preparing the tongue from scratch, as the skinning and boiling would have taken more time and space than we had available. There was the added bonus, of course, that for the more squeamish among the group the meat looked and handled just like ham. We then added an fruity mix of apples, currants, raisins and sweetmeats (dried apricots, dried cranberries and candied peel and ginger) to the mixture, stirring well to combine. Sugar and spice were then sprinkled in, along with a good measure of sherry.

The mincemeat mixture, ready for putting in the pie cases

The mincemeat mixture, ready for putting in the pie cases

Christina had expertly rolled and lined a muffin tin with shortcrust pastry. We filled some of the pastry cases with the meaty mincemeat and others with vegetarian mincemeat so that we could compare ‘Mammas mince pyes’ with their modern day counterparts.

Annie showed us how to make and fill a hand-raised pie

Annie showed us how to make and fill a hand-raised pie

Annie then showed us how to craft a hand-raised mince pie, building up the pastry little by little to create a free-standing pie case. We were all very impressed by Annie’s expertise!

Annie’s hand-raised pie case, filled and ready for the pastry lid

Annie’s hand-raised pie case, filled and ready for the pastry lid

After just over half and hour in the oven, it was time to take out the pies and have a taste. Golden brown with crisp short-crust pastry, they were a proper festive temptation and an ideal start to our Christmas celebrations. Our concerns about the meat had been unwarranted. Much to our surprise, the ox tongue added a richness to our mince pies which really enhanced the taste.

Our golden mincemeat pies, ready for tasting!

Our golden mincemeat pies, ready for tasting!

Christina noted that there was something extremely satisfying about all the ingredients – apples, raisins, sultanas etc and that they blended surprisingly well. The sherry gave the mixture real depth, and the nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and ginger provided the warm spice flavours that we have come to associate so closely with Christmas. But unlike the mince pies we buy in the shops today, these 18th century style ones weren’t too sweet – the sugar was really well balance by the saltiness of the tongue. The effect was really very pleasing.

Annie's hand-raised pie was the star of the session!

Annie’s hand-raised pie was the star of the session!

Lemon caudle

Mince pies baked, we went on to make our lemon caudle. It was a quick and relatively easy recipe.

Christina getting the lemon juice ready for our caudle

Christina getting the lemon juice ready for our caudle

We gently heated our milk on the stove and curdled it with freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Once we were sure that all the milk had turned, we strained off the curds and discarded them. The whey was then poured over a couple of egg yolks in a large bowl, whisked all the while, and once combined was returned to the saucepan on the hob. We were really careful to keep stirring the mixture and not let it heat up too much, as while we wanted it to thicken, we definitely didn’t want the mixture to split a second time!

Curdling milk to make lemon caudle. We turned the milk with lemon juice.

Curdling milk to make lemon caudle. We turned the milk with lemon juice.

As the caudle cooked, we began to get a better idea of what we might expect from it in terms of taste and texture. Christina thought the caudle would be a bit like custard, while Annie suggested that it would be warming and comforting – perfect for warding off the cold of winter.

Lemon caudle, ready for serving!

Lemon caudle, ready for serving!

We were pleased to find our end product a pleasant, milky drink, which led some of our group to compare it to our modern day equivalent of ‘Ovaltine’. The rose water, now so strongly associated with our Georgian cookery, still added the slightly unfamiliar taste to our drink, despite the little we had added. Still unsure of this perfumed taste, Christina and Kim agreed that one glass of this was more than enough, despite its soothing taste and texture.

As a post dinner treat, the combination of our mince pies and lemon caudle worked surprisingly well together. Christina was so blown away by our mince pies, she claimed they were the best she’d ever tasted! A comment to be cherished! Although our lemon caudle hadn’t tickled anyone’s tastebuds to quite the same extent, we had also enjoyed trying it out. Relaxing with a glass of mulled wine, we went on to discuss the pros and cons of historic food recreation with Annie…a lovely conclusion to a busy afternoon!

You can find the recipes we followed for the mince pies and lemon caudle on our Cooking Up History page. Why not give them a go?

A concise history of clotted cream

It is with great pleasure that we welcome back Maya Pieris as today’s guest author. Maya has a passion for food history and, as a founding member of Bridport’s History Girls group, she has plenty of experience in recreating historic recipes. In her last article, Maya explored the history of the British picnic, from working lunches in the fields to formal outdoor dining. Today she serves up another appetising slice of food history as she shares an international story of clotted cream… 

‘Clouted’ Cream

I was taken to see an old gentleman of eighty who has eaten [clotted cream] all his life, four times a day, and he seemed none the worse

 – from Truffle Hunt by Sacheverell Sitwell (1953)

Cream first, or jam? It’s an issue almost as divisive as that which surrounds the pronunciation of “scone” (skəʊn or skɒn): a question which provokes earnest and passionate opinions! I feel that logically (and culinarily) that the order should be scone, then cream and then jam on top. Not only is it visually more appealing this way, but the cream also acts like butter and a kind of ‘glue’ for the jam. No doubt many of you who read this will be of the opposite point of view!

As well as being the focus of this on-running gastronomic debate, clotted cream also has a fascinating history and a wide cultural reach. In the cuisines of countries such as Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, local people make a rich clotted cream called kaymak from water buffalo milk. Cows milk and cream are also used to produce a version which is a little less rich. Production in this area of the world dates back to the 16th century at least:  in 1573 a decree was issued to women of the Ottoman Empire, forbidding them to enter shops selling kaymak as these establishments had become known as trysting places!

Macedonian Kaymark

 – 1 quart milk
 – 500ml /1 pint thick cream

  • Boil the milk in shallow pans and carefully pour the cream in from a height.
  • Simmer on a low heat for about 2 hours being careful it doesn’t catch.Turn off the heat and leave to stand for about 6 hours without touching.
  • Cook again on a low heat for ½ hour and cool again without touching.
  • Place in the fridge for 24 hours. Once the cream has formed, loosen it with a knife and ease it onto a plate for serving.

British clotted cream also has a long and intriguing history.  It has been suggested by food writers such as Alan Davidson that the arrival of Phoenician traders to Cornwall around 2000 years ago may have introduced the tradition. The cream’s association with the dairy farming region of the West Country is also well-established, with recipes for “clouted” cream in local cookbook collections dating back several centuries. But clotted cream was also very popular in other counties. Lady Elinor Fettiplace, Elizabethan mistress of an Oxfordshire manor house, recorded her method for clotting cream in her household book. She made it from the top of the morning’s milk, alternately cooled, heated, “dripped” with fresh cream, heated again and then left to stand overnight. Cinnamon and mace were sometimes used to flavour it.

Sir Kenelm Digby, 17th century courtier, natural philosopher and recipe collector

Sir Kenelm Digby, 17th century courtier, natural philosopher and recipe collector

Another fan of clotted cream was Sir Kenelm Digby (1603–1665), a 17th century resident of Covent Garden. Sir Kenelm’s passion for science and philosophy saw him commit much of his life to the pursuit of alchemy. But he was also a keen collector of more prosaic recipes. A posthumous publication of his cookery writings included a couple of recipes for clotted cream. Although the recipes differ in detail and length (one comprises two pages of instructions while the other extends only to 7 lines), both dishes are decidedly sweet, being strewn with sugar before they are served:

Sir Kenelm’s Clouted Cream

Take two Gallons more or less of new milk, set it upon a clear fire; when it is ready to boil, put in a quart of sweet cream, and take off the fire, and strain it through a hair sieve into earthen pans; let it stand two days and two nights; then take it off with a skimmer; strew sugar on the cream, and serve it to the Table.

Over the centuries, clotted cream has gained a well-deserved place in the nation’s culinary pantheon. Many of us may not follow in the footsteps of Sir Kenelm Digby or Lady Elinor Fettiplace by preparing the cream ourselves, but no matter… this dairy delight seems as popular as ever, whether enjoyed in a West Country cafe or at a London hotel for afternoon tea.


To find out more about the activities of The History Girls check out their Twitter feed, or browse Maya’s range of historically-inspired pickles by visiting her Four Seasons Preserves online shop!


Lemon cheese

This is a zesty cream cheese, flavoured with fresh lemon peel. You can add as much sugar as you like, but we think the unknown ladies of our Cookbook may have liked it pretty sweet: they recommend serving it with candied oranges or a dab of currant jelly on the side.

18th century for lemon cheese from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century for lemon cheese from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Lemmon Cheese

A qurt of good thick sweet creame. Put to it the juce of four lemons as as mutch peel as well give it an agreeable flavour. Sweeten it to your taste & add a littile peach or orange flower water if you like it. Whip it up as you would for sellabubs but very solid. If you have a tin vat, put a thin cloath in it & pour in your cream. If not, put it in a napkin and tye it pritty close. Hang it up to let the whey run from it. Make it the night be fore you use it. Garnish it with currant jelliy or candied oranges.

Mrs Ryves’ Cream Cheese

If you search the web for the history of cream cheese, you’ll find plenty of articles claiming that it was invented by an American, William Lawrence of New York State, in the 1870s.

Not so! While Lawrence can lay claim to producing the first mass-marketed cream cheese, our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies proves that English ladies such as Mrs Ryve had long been preparing this dairy delight.

Mrs Ryve's Cream Cheese - a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Mrs Ryve’s Cream Cheese – a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Mrs Ryves’ Cream Cheese

Take a gallon of new milk & 3 pints of cream. Set ye cream on ye fire till it tis near boyling & power it to yr milk & 3 pints of scalding water. When it is new milk warm, put ye runnet to it & when come, put it in ye strainer as whole as you can. When well wheyed, put it in yr fatt & a board over it. Press it with 2 pd at first, adding by degrees. Change it often in fresh cloaths & bring yr weight to 12 pd at ye last. When you take it out, rub a little salt on it. Next day put it in nettles & so keep it till it tis ripe, shifting it every day wth fresh nettles & wiping it as often as you do it.

Mrs Ryve’s recipe predates Lawrence’s mass-production by a century or so. The quantities here would have produced a pretty big batch, but it would have still been intended for domestic use.

Her traditional method of cheesemaking requires a great deal of care and patience, but you can bet that the final result, when brought out from its protective covering of nettles, would be fresh, full of flavour and to hard beat!

Ways with eggs

The Georgians were great meat-eaters, but over the course of the 18th century this staple of the English diet was becoming increasingly expensive. The rapid expansion of urban populations saw a rise in demand for meat, and as a consequence it both rose in price and declined in quality.

Eggs, on the other hand, were highly nutritious and more affordable than meat. Our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies show how eggs could be used to eke out dishes, while still satisfying those with more carnivorous inclinations.

The first recipe is a hearty version of eggs on toast. Hard boiled eggs are stewed in a rich concoction of strong beef gravy, white wine and shredded spinach, and served on small pieces of toasted bread (the ‘sippits’ in this recipe):

18th century recipe for a fricassee of eggs, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for a fricassee of eggs, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Fricasie of Eggs (18th century)

Take 12 hard eggs. Cut ym in quarters & put ym in yr toss pan with a pint of strong beef greavy, a wine glass full of white wine, some nutmeg, a little blanch’d spinage shred, a lump of butter rol’d in flower. Let these stew a little & stir ym gently. Serve ym on sippits crispted in yr frying pan.

There are also two Regency recipes. Poached eggs give some body to a plain dish of broiled mutton, and a simple omelette is given a meaty flavour by the addition of some diced kidney:

Cold meat broiled with poached eggs: a Regency recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Cold meat broiled with poached eggs: a Regency recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Cold Meat Broiled with Poached Eggs (19th century)

For this dish, a leg of mutton or inside of a sirloin of beef is best. Cut the slices even and equal. Broil them over a clean fire. Lay them in a dish before the fire to keep hot while you poach the eggs.

19th century recipe for a "common omelette" from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

19th century recipe for a “common omelette” from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

The Common Omelette (19th century)

Five or six eggs. Break them and leave out half the whites. Beat them well, adding a teaspoonful of salt. Have ready chopped two drachms of onion, one of parsley. Beat all up well together. Take four ounces of fresh butter, break half of it into little bits and put it into the omelette, the other half into a clean frying pan. When it is melted, pour in the omelette and stir it with a spoon till it begins to set. Then, turn it up all around the edges and when it is a nice brown, it is done. The easiest way to take it up is to put a plate on the omelette and turn the pan upside down. Kidney, boiled first and cut in dice, is sometimes used instead of the parsley and onion.

Stewed cheese

This simple dish of hot, bubbling cheese was a popular repast at Ye Cheshire Cheese public house on Fleet Street. Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens are counted among the pub’s illustrious canon of drinkers, and  may well have sampled its famous stewed cheese along with their ale.

Eighteenth-century recipe for stewing cheese, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Eighteenth-century recipe for stewing cheese, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Stew Cheese

Put 3 spoonfulls of water, & ye yolk of an egg, & a lump of butter, beat up, at ye bottom of a pewter plate. Slice yr cheese in thin small bits upon it, yn stew it on a chafing dish of coals wth an other plate over it.

The cheese, egg and butter mixture is cooked gently on a chafing dish – a raised grate with allowed the food to be heated over a brazier without the fierce heat of the flames. When ready, the cheese would be served in a small pot, which could either serve as a dipping pot for sliced toast, or be used to pour the cheese over toasted bread.

Stewed cheese was frequently eaten as a ‘chaser’ after a serving or two of Ye Cheshire Cheese’s famous meaty puddings of lark, kidney, steak and oysters. Even for a man of Dr Johnson’s legendary appetite, that would have been quite some meal!