The Cooking Up History sessions – 3: summer tea party

Our Cooking Up History volunteers returned to the Archives kitchen at the end of June to try out some more recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. And how better to celebrate the onset of summer than with a table laden with lemon creams, Savoy biscuits and a jug of refreshing spring fruit sherbet?

We were all excited about the menu, and pleased to find we were starting to become familiar with the tastes of the Georgian period. As Christina set to work zesting the lemons for our ‘lemmond cream’, she remarked how popular citrus seemed to be with the Cookbook’s compilers. In the early part of the 18th century oranges and lemons were still relatively expensive, and it is unlikely that our unknown ladies had their own orangery or glass-house where the fruits could be grown. We can only assume that their household brought in enough income to allow them the luxury of lemons in their puddings! 

Christina zests the lemons for our "lemmond cream"

Christina zests the lemons for our “lemmond cream”

“Lemmond Cream”

Our first recipe sounded rather appetising: a refreshing mix of lemons, sugar and eggs would go into making our Lemmond Cream. It was quick and easy to make up the mixture, although we all observed that it took much longer to thicken on the heat than we’d anticipated. Perhaps this was a touch of 21st century impatience coming into play?

Thickening up the lemon cream on the hob

Thickening up the lemon cream on the hob

The end result was a sweet-smelling and “extremely strongly flavoured” dish which defied all the expectations the name had given us. A splash of orange flower water lent the creams a highly-perfumed flavour, but the appearance was rather less appealing. We’d all expected a light creamy colour, but they actually turned out a rather lurid yellowy brown!  Maybe the long process of thickening the mixture on the stove had led to the sugar caramelising a bit. The texture looked a little grainy but was in fact very smooth to the taste.

Our lemon creams!

Our “lemmond cream”!

On balance, we all quite liked the creams, but a few felt the flavours were a little on the over-powering side. David, on the other hand, could have done with even more of a punch: he felt that by straining the mixture and removing the zest we’d lost a strong element of our ingredients, which could have provided added layers of extra texture and taste.

“Spring Fruit Sherbet”

Kim had prepared the Spring fruit sherbet earlier on in the day: an infusion of rhubarb, water, lemon and sugar syrup. It had been cooling in the fridge for some five hours by the time we came to try it.

The spring fruit sherbet went down well with some...

The spring fruit sherbet went down well with some…

Everyone admired the pretty pink colour of the drink – a bit like pink lemonade or a summery Pimm’s punch – but its taste really divided opinion. Some were extremely keen. Georgina felt the blend quite purifying whilst David claimed it to be ‘very tart’ – not necessarily a bad feature in David’s opinion! And Kim was at the other end of the scale, needing to add extra sugar to her glass as it was far too bitter for her. Angela stood somewhere in the middle on all this, finding it not bad at all, but wondering whether a more dilute version might be better.

“Savoy Biscuitts”

The Savoy biscuits were the highlight of our afternoon’s cookery escapades.

Dropping the Savoy biscuit batter on to the prepared trays

Placing the Savoy biscuit batter on the floured trays

The method was easy to follow. David commented that these biscuits seemed likely to have been made in large volumes, although following the extremely lengthy whisking of our eggs we questioned how easy this method would have been for a greater quantity in a Georgian household. Today we would normally have resorted to an electric beater but perseverance by Angela and a fork eventually paid off to give us the desired soft peaks!

Angela drew the short straw of whisking the egg whites

Angela drew the short straw of whisking the egg whites and sugar

The biscuits took 20 minutes in our electric oven and were very aesthetically pleasing, with a light brown colour. This, combined with the soft and slightly chewy meringue texture, meant they went down really well with all of the team.

The recipe specified that these biscuits would be “proper with tea in an afternoon” and so we popped the kettle on and enjoyed a good brew. A relief to Kim, who had been less than keen on the spring fruit sherbet!

Savoy biscuits, lemon creams and spring fruit sherbet: our Georgian-style spread!

Savoy biscuits, lemon creams and spring fruit sherbet: our Georgian-style spread!

What a lovely afternoon! David and Christina both commented how well everything had turned out, and what a nice spread it had been. A proper summer tea, which was certainly well-deserved by our Cooking Up History team!

"Cheers to a wonderful afternoon!" Our Cooking Up History group raise a toast with a glass of rhubarb sherbet

“Cheers to a wonderful afternoon!” Our Cooking Up History group raise a toast with a glass of rhubarb sherbet

Fancy having a go at these recipes at home? Visit our Cooking Up History section for all the details!

Summer drinks

As London wilts in the current heatwave, how about a refreshing Regency tipple to help you keep cool?

This recipe for lemonade in a minute creates a citrus concentrate, which can then be diluted with water to make a thirst-quenching drink. There are also suggestions for alcoholic versions – stirring the lemonade into brandy or rum to make a ‘shrub’.

Whip up a cooling lemonade 'in a minute' with this quick Regency recipe

Whip up a cooling lemonade ‘in a minute’ with this quick Regency recipe

Lemonade in a minute

Pound a quarter of an ounce avoirdupois of citric, i.e. crystallized lemon acid, with a few drop of quintessence of lemon peel and mix it, by degrees, with a pint of clarified syrup. If you have no quintessence, flavour your syrup with thin cut lemon peel. 

A tablespoonful of this in a pint of water will produce an agreeable sherbet. With the addition of any spirit you like, you have punch in a minute. Brandy or rum flavoured with the above will give you very good shrub.

Our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies also shares a recipe for this beer cup cocktail:

A beer-based cocktail from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A beer-based cocktail from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Cool tankard or beer cup

A quart of mild ale, a glass of white wine, one of brandy, one of capilliare, the juice of a lemon, a roll of the peel cut thin, nutmeg grated at the top, (a sprig of borrage, a balm) and a bit of toasted bread – cider cup is the same, substituting cider for beer.  

‘Cool tankard’ is in fact another name for the cordial herb borage. Like name, like nature, it lends a refreshing note to the cocktail, not unlike cucumber. In fact, cucumber would be quite a good substitute, if you fancy giving this drink a go.

Capillaire is also tricky to get hold of nowadays, but you can make up your own by mixing sugar syrup and curaçao – William Kitchiner recommends a pint of the syrup to a wine glass of the orange liqueur. Or if you think this recipe is already rather too boozy, a spoonful of orange flower water in sugar syrup should also do the trick.