All in a pickle

Come early summer, thoughts turn to how best to preserve the produce of the season. In the Georgian period only the wealthiest households would have had an ice house for rudimentary refrigeration. Most domestic cooks needed to resort to other methods – such as salting and pickling – to ensure that the plethora of fresh produce did not go to waste.

Pickling was a popular way of preserving food so that it could be enjoyed for months to come. Our unknown ladies gleaned the following advice from 19th century cookery guru Dr William Kitchiner:

The strongest vinegar should be used for pickling. It must not be boiled or the strength of the vinegar & spices will be lost. By parboiling the pickles in brine, they will be ready in half the time. When taken out of the hot brine, let them get cold and quite dry before you put them into the pickle. To assist the preservation, add a portion of salt. For the same purpose, and to give flavor: long pepper – black pepper – white pepper – allspice – ginger – cloves – mace – garlick – mustard – horseradish – shallots – capsicum. The best method is to bruise in a mortar three or four ounces of the above materials. Put them into a stone jar with a quart of the strongest vinegar. Stop the jar closely with a bung. Cover that with a bladder soaked with pickle. Set it on a trivet by the side of the fire for three days, well shaking it up three or four times a day. By pounding the spice, half the quantity is enough and the jar being well closed and the infusion made with a mild heat, there is no loss by evaporation. Run a larding pin through the articles pickled to give them the better flavour. A wooden spoon full of holes to take them out.

Some decades earlier, another of our cookbook compilers recorded this simple recipe for pickled onions. The principles are in keeping with Kitchiner’s later method. After being soaking and boiled in salty water, they are flavoured with sliced horseradish, and bottled in an infusion vinegar, black pepper and ginger:

18th century for pickling onions from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century for pickling onions from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Pickle Onions

Take the smallest & hardest you can get. Peel their brown skin of them but take care you dont bruse them. Then putt them in salt & water in a crok, close cover’d, 2 days & nights. Then put them in a skillet of water on a clear fire. Let them just boyle & no more, then take of one skin more with a cloth but take care you dont bruse them. Dont take of the root till you are going to use them, for that will let the air into them & make them turn black. Put them in a dry crok. Put some horse redish slic’d betwen the layers. Scald some vinegar with a good dale of pepper & ginger whole. Pour it scalding hot on them. Cover them close immediately. Keep them always close cover’d with a blader & leather. You must not expect them to keep above 2 months rightly white. They may be done any time of the year.

Chicken pie

You’ll need one seriously big pie dish – and appetite – for this recipe.

Chickens, with just the legs and wings removed, are laid whole in a dish, on a bed of artichoke bottoms and hard-boiled egg yolks. Lettuce hearts and asparagus can be added to the filling for an even heartier meal and, once baked, the pie is finished off with lashings of rich gravy.

Recipe for a hearty 18th century chicken pie, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for a hearty 18th century chicken pie, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Chicken Pye

Cut of the legs & wings of yr chickens & have ye carcasses whole. Put a bit of butter in ther bellys, season them with pepper, cloves & mace & salt. Lay them in as whole as you can. Lay ye bottom of hartichokes, ye yolks of hard eggs under & over them & fill yr pye with water as full as it can hold. When it is baked, cut of ye lid & have a caudle of half a pint of greavy & the yolks of 4 eggs, a print of butter brewed in it. Pour it very hot on yr pye & lay on yr lid again. If you please, you may put in some tops of asperagus & some hearts of lectuce in yr pye.

Green peas or white peas: take your pick!

Two contrasting recipes for pea soups. The first, for a “green pease soope” is bursting with spring flavours: cucumber, spearmint, as well as freshly-picked peas…

Recipe for "green pease soope" from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for “green pease soope” from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Green Pease Soope

Take 3 quarts of peas & 5 quarts of water. Boyle yr pease, bruse them & strain them through a hair sive. Take a pottle of raw peas, pound them fine and put them your peas liquor and give them one boyl. Then strain it through a hair seive into a tossing pan & put som pounded peper, mace, some parsly & a good deal of speremint shred small & 2 skallians, one handfull of whole peas, two large cucumbers slict. Let all boyle slow for an hour, then stir in a qr of a pound of butter, a qr of a pint of sweet cream first boyl’d. Stir all well together & put in the bottoms of three harty Choaks boyl’d & cut in square peices. Stir it all one way. If yr soop be nt thick enough, put in a lump of butter rouled in flower.

The term scallion is still used in North America for what we in Britain call spring onions. The ‘pottle’ refers to the container in which the peas were bought from a market or street vendor. And for three harty Choaks read “three artichokes”!

Our second recipe is for a white pea soup. Dried split peas would be a good substitute for the white peas. This is a much heartier soup, with warmth from the bacon, fried bread and beetroot. There’s no need to thicken this one with butter and flour. If anything it is “apt to grow too thick”, so if you do give it a go, take care not to leave it on the stove too long:

"White Pease Soope": a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

“White Pease Soope”: a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

White Pease Soope

Take a pottle of good white pease & 5 qrts of water. Let yr pease be put in the water, cold, & let them boil till the are soft but dont break them at all. Then pour the broth from them very cleer & cut some salery small & som lettice & some spearmint & the ends of 2 o 3 leeks & some spinage & beets & some parsley. Cut all these very small & stew them in half a pnd of butter in a sauce pan, very soft. Then put them in yr pease broth & a qrt of strong gravy & a good deal of pounded mace & a little pepper. Give these a boil or 2 together, stirring them well & have some small rashers of bacon & bread fryed & laid in the bottom of your dish. Pour yr soope over them. You must take care yr pease be very clear. You must let it stew a very little while for it will be apt to grow too thick.

‘Love food, hate waste’ the 18th century way

The Georgians delighted in gastronomic dishes, but they were also talented in consuming food efficiently, with very little waste.

Our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies contains many good examples of the  Georgians’ “waste not want not” ethic in the kitchen. Here, a recipe for roast hare is paired with another for preparing the pelt.

18th century recipe for roast hare from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for roast hare from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Roast An Hare

Lard ye hinder quarters but not ye fore. Put a pudding in ye belly made of ye liver minc’d, an anchovy shred, some crumbs of bread, & nutmeg, a raw egg, some good cream. Mix all these & stuf it & stick it up, & beast yr hare wth cream.

The second recipe is attributed to Mrs Hayne, who we last met when we looked at tansies. She washes the hare’s skin, reserved when preparing the roast, and treats it by steeping it in a strong pickle. After three days of pickling and washing, the tanned hide was hung up to dry:

Mrs Hayne's way to dress a hare's skin, an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Method for dressing a hare’s skin, an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Mrs Haynes Way to Dress an Hairs Skin

Take a fresh skin & boyle bran & water & wash ye skin in it. When it is milk warm, let it lye therein 4 or 5 hours. Yn wash ye bran of it & make a strong pickle of salt, allom, & water. Boyle ye pickle & when milk warm, wash ye skin well in it. Let it lye in ye pickle 24 hours, yn squeese it dry & warm ye pickle milk warm & wash it again. Doo this for 3 days, still taking out ye skin while ye pickle is warming, yn boyle bran & water & wash ye skin in it milk warm & hang it up to dry.

Tort de moy: a dish fit for a king

The term ‘tort de moy’ is derived from the French word for bone marrow, moelle. It may sound rather simple, or even unpalatable, but at Westminster Hall on 23 April 1685, bone marrow tart was served as the food of royalty.

Sandford's History of the Coronation is a rich record of the royal festivities when James II was  crowned in 1685

Sandford’s History of the Coronation is a rich record of the festivities of 1685

Francis Sandford’s History of the Coronation is a rich record of the crowning of King James II and the festivities which followed. King James II’s coronation was a lavish affair, culminating in a sensational feast in the medieval hall at the Palace of Westminster.

Extract from Sandford's History of the Coronation listing meats served at Their Majesties' table at the coronation banquet. Turt de moil (tort de moy) appears at number 98.

Extract from Sandford’s History of the Coronation listing meats served at Their Majesties’ table at the coronation banquet. Turt de moil (tort de moy) appears at number 98.

In total, 175 dishes were set in front of Their Majesties at the banquet. From stags tongues and larded fawns to puffins and trotter pies, the array of dishes was eclectic, eccentric, and not generally in keeping with today’s tastes!

Turt de moil, or tort de moy, appears at no. 98 on Sandford’s list of dishes. A plan of the King and Queen’s banqueting table even shows us how it was served: alongside three sous’d pigs (110), five partridge pies (96) and cold, marinated smelts (97):

Plan showing the arrangement of meats on Their Majesties table at the Coronation banquet, 1685

Plan showing the arrangement of meats on Their Majesties table at the Coronation banquet, 1685

What made this simple bone marrow tart a dish fit for a king? Here is the version which appears version in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, attributed to a ‘Mrs Gibbs’:

Mrs Gibbs’ Tort de Moy, a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Mrs Gibbs’ Tort de Moy, a recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Mrs Gibbs is Tort De Moy (modernised spelling)

Pound a quarter of a pound of almonds with sack, and beat the white part of a young pullet that is very tender & half boiled. Skin it and pound it very small. 4 naple biscuits grated, some pounded cinnamon, half a pint of sack, 6 spoonfuls of rose water, some pounded mace, half a nutmeg, some sugar to your taste, sliced citron & candied lemon peel. Then beat 4 eggs, two whites and mix it with half a pint of cream. When you have beaten your eggs and cream well together, put your other ingredients to it and mix them well together and put them in a skillet over the fire and keep continually stirring [it] one way till it is as thick as a tansy. Your fire must be slow. Then have a dish with puff pastry at the bottom and sides, and when it is pretty cool, put half of [the mixture] in your dish and then a layer of whole marrow and the juice of a lemon over it. Then put the other half in , then cross bar it with pastry [on the] top and bake it in a very slow oven. 3 quarters of an hour bakes it. You can leave out the marrow if you like.

The method is labour intensive, and the ingredients would have made this a relatively expensive dish: ground white chicken (pullet) meat, almonds, warm spices and candied fruits. And it is rich in taste and texture too, with unctuous bone marrow sandwiched between almondy sponge layers. Presented in a buttery pastry case, it would surely have stood up to its culinary neighbours at the coronation banquet table.

A sweet spinach tart

Sweet spinach tart? It may be an unusual concept, but it is one that has weathered several centuries. In her Vegetable Book (1978), Jane Grigson writes that this dish still features among the treize desserts traditionally served in Provençal households on Christmas Eve.

Grigson’s recipe recreates Southern French flavours by including some candied orange and lemon peel. Francophones can google “tarte sucrée aux épinards” for further variations and additions, including pine nuts and raisins.

The eighteenth-century recipe below, from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, is flavoured with rosewater and laced with brandy:

An eighteenth-century recipe for sweet spinach tart, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An eighteenth-century recipe for sweet spinach tart, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Spineage Tort. This is for second course.

Take 6 eggs, yolks & whites. Beat them well with a pint of sweet cream, a qr of a pd of crums of bread, a good handfull of spinage cut small, half a qr of currons, half a qr of almonds pounded wth a little rose water, half a nutmeg, half a pd of white sugar. Half a pound of drawn butter, 3 spoonfulls of brandy. Mix all well together. Lay paist thin at the bottom & sides of the dish & cross bar at top. 3 qrs of an hour bakes it.

The Cooking Up History sessions – 2: kidney florentine and fruit dumplings

Following the successful launch of our Cooking Up History sessions last month, we were inspired to put on our pinnies again to try out some more recipes from our Georgian cookbook. Willing volunteers David and Christina joined us in the Archives kitchen, and enthusiastically took up the challenge of recreating a couple of rather unusual recipes.

Our Archives Assistant Kim sits down with David and Christina to try the Florentine

Our Archives Assistant Kim sits down with David and Christina to try the Florentine

First up on the menu was a sweet and savoury dish called ‘Veal Kidney Florentine’.  Baked in a pastry case, the dish didn’t look anything out of the ordinary: a generously filled pie with a decorative latticed topping. We all agreed, however, the flavour was distinctly out of kilter with today’s cuisine, and tasted nothing like anything we had ever tried.

We were really pleased with the look of our veal kidney florentine

We were really pleased with the look of our veal kidney florentine

Not everyone was keen, but David was fairly positive. He thought the dish was “not unpleasant, but very unusual and exotic”. Perhaps not surprising given the unfamiliar blend of ingredients used in the filling: a tongue-tingling mix of kidney, apples, orange peel and lettuce, spices (mace and nutmeg) and a good glug of sherry.

Christina felt it was “more of a sweet dish like an apple pie rather than a savoury one”, and rather unusual therefore to find served as a first course. The method was easy to follow, and everyone agreed that the dish looked stunning, even if the taste didn’t quite live up to its appearance! We wondered whether the recipe could be tweaked for modern palates by adding more meat, and decreasing the fruit content, as the taste of the apple was pretty overpowering.

Our 18th century style orange and lemon dumplings

Our 18th century style orange and lemon dumplings

Moving on from the florentine, we had a go at ‘Orange and Lemon Dumplins’. To make these, we scooped the flesh out of lemons and oranges, and filled the zesty casings with a spice and brandy infused almond breadcrumb mixture.

The batter resembled the texture of thick porridge as we spooned it into the fruit shells. The ‘lid’ of each fruit was then put back, and secured by wrapping the whole citrus in muslin. We then faced an agonising decision. How long should we cook them for? The recipe suggested that they would “take as much boyling as a piece of beif”. How long is a piece of string?

The orange and lemon dumplings, boiling in their muslin wrappers

The orange and lemon dumplings, boiling in their muslin wrappers

In the end, we did cook the fruit too long. Overboiled, the dumplings were at the point of near collapse when we took them out of the pan.

The orange and lemon dumplings received a mixed reaction. Someone described the filling as “good comfort food” whilst David preferred the zestiness of the actual lemon and orange casings that held the mixture. We all thought  the dish was somewhat lacking in flavour. On reflection, maybe we hadn’t sweetened the mix enough. As with many other recipes in the Cookbook, there were no quantities to go by – only the vague instruction to add ‘some sugar to taste’.

The dumpling ingredients – sugar, brandy, almonds and citrus – had led us to think of the dish as a dessert, but in fact the Cookbook describes it as an accompaniment for a main course. Perhaps the blandness of the dish was intended to balance the flavour of the richer main course dish. Maybe we missed a trick by tasting the florentine and dumplings one after the other rather than together.  It is possible that eating the two dishes together would have offered us quite a different taste experience.

Tempted to take up the challenge? See our Cooking Up History page for all the recipes our intrepid volunteers have tried to date.

We’d love to know how you get on with these, or any other recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies… Email your photos and findings to archives@westminster.gov.uk, or post a comment on the blog!

[Georgina]