A masterclass in simplicity

One of the tenets of modern gastronomy is simplicity: allowing good ingredients to take centre stage.

Today’s recipes reveal the Georgians as the masters of this art. There are no lengthy lists of ingredients, complicated cooking processes or extravagant proposals for presentation. Instead, we are offered a masterclass in moderation, as even the cheapest meat and fish are given the space to shine on the plate. 

The first recipe, for lamb stove or stew, comes from William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle. With a little parsley and onion and a good helping of spinach and beef stock, lamb’s head and lungs are turned into a warming winter stew:

Regency recipe for Lamb Stove. Our unknown ladies borrowed this recipe from Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

Regency recipe for Lamb Stove. Our unknown ladies borrowed this recipe from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

Lamb Stove or Lamb Stew

Take a lambs head & lights. Open the jaws of the head and wash them thoroughly. Put them in pot with some beef stock made with three quarts of water and two pounds of shin of beef strained. Boil very slowly for an hour. Wash and string two or three good handfuls of spinach. Put it in twenty minutes before serving. Add a little parsley & one or two onions a short time before it comes off the fire. Season with pepper & salt & serve in a tureen.

Next comes herring pie, a simple dish of seasoned herrings, onion and butter in a puff pastry shell:

18th century recipe for 'Herring Pye' from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for ‘Herring Pye’ from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Herring Pye

Season yr herrings with pepper & salt. Put a good deal of sliced onion with then & good store of butter. Soe bake them in puff paste & eat them hot.

And finally, water souchy. The dish’s curious name comes from the Dutch waterzootje, and it seems possible that this soup may have become enshrined in the English culinary repertoire around the time of William of Orange’s accession to the throne in 1689. Today, the Belgians still enjoy a traditional fish stew known as waterzooi.

The version of water souchy given in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is another recipe taken from Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle. Flounder, whiting, gudgeon and eel are suggested as suitable fish varieties for the soup, but other fish could also be used according to availability: 

William Kitchiner's recipe for water souchy, a fish broth, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

William Kitchiner’s recipe for water souchy, a fish broth, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Water Souchy

Is made with flounders, whitings, gudgeons or eels. They must be quite fresh & nicely cleaned, for what they are boiled in makes the sauce. Wash, gut & trim your fish. Cut them into handsome pieces. Put them into a stewpan with as much water as will cover them, with some parsley, an onion minced, a little pepper & salt. Some add scraped horseradish and a bay leaf. Skim it carefully when it boils. When done enough, (which will be in a few minutes) send it up in a deep dish with bread sippets and some slices of bread & butter on a plate.

 

Shin of beef stewed

As southern Britain is buffeted by strong, wintry winds, here’s some hearty, comforting fare to warm us up:

Shin of beef stewed: a Regency recipe by William Kitchiner, transcribed here in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Shin of beef stewed: a Regency recipe by William Kitchiner, transcribed here in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Shin of Beef Stewed

Have the bone sawed into three or four pieces. Just cover it with water. When it simmers, skim it clean. Then put in a bundle of sweet herbs, an onion, a head of celery, a dozen berries of allspice, same of black pepper. Stir very gently for about four hours. Boil till tender some carrots, turnips & button onions. About fifteen minutes will do. Carrots twice as long cut in dices. When the beef is ready, thicken a pint & half of the gravy. To do this, mix three tablespoonsful of flour with a teacup full of the broth. Stir it well together. Scum & strain. Put your vegetables in it to warm, season. Make soup of the rest as directed for Bouilli…

It’s a while since we last took a look at one of William Kitchiner‘s Regency recipes, which our unknown recipe compilers lifted from his domestic manual The Cook’s OracleThis method for stewed beef is another fine example of how Kitchiner’s work paved the way for writers such as Isabella Beeton later in the 19th Century. His recipes often betray the same concern for good household management for which Beeton herself would become famous. Here, he puts the leftovers to good use by turning them into a Bouilli Soup:

Kitchiner's recipe for Soup Bouilli, written into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Kitchiner’s recipe for Soup Bouilli, written into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Soup Bouilli

Cover your meat [with water] and a quart more, set it on a quick fire to get the scum up, which take off, then put in 2 carrots, turnips, onions, heads of celery, some parsley and sweet herbs. Set it by the side of the fire to simmer gently for 4 or 5 hours. Put a large carrot and turnip, an onion into the soup whole and some whey. Take them out when done enough, and when cold cut them in square. Strain the soup into a clean stewpan, remove the fat & warm the vegetables in it. If you thicken the soup, take 4 large tablespoonsful of the clear fat from the top of the pot and 4 spoonsful of flour. Mix it smooth together by degrees. Stir it into the soup, which simmer ten minutes longer at least. Skim it well and strain, then add the vegetables. Ox tails and heels make excellent soup. Two hours will do the first, the meat to be taken off the bone.

Nutritious, economical and full of flavour… what’s not to like?

Portable soup

Portable soup was the Regency equivalent of the modern-day stock cube.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that companies such as Oxo started mass-producing dehydrated stock. Before then, most households had prepared fresh stock from scratch and, in cases where a preserved supply was needed, made their own cubes of ‘portable soup’. This recipe, transcribed from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, shows how it was done:

A Regency recipe for 'portable soup', transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

A Regency recipe for ‘portable soup’, transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

Portable Soup or Glaze

Break the bones of a leg or shin of beef, 10 lbs weight. Put it in a digester, cover it with cold water, set it on the fire to heat gradually till it nearly boils. This should be an hour. Skim carefully, pour in a little cold water to throw up the rest. Let it boil again and again. Skim carefully when it appears clear (put in neither roots, herbs nor salt). Let it boil for eight or ten hours and then strain into a brown stone pan. Set the broth where it will cool quickly. Put the meat into a sieve. Let it drain – make potted beef – next day remove every particle of fat from the top and pour it through a fine sieve, as quietly as possible, into a stewpan, taking care not to let any of the settlings go into the stewpan. Add a quarter of an ounce of whole black pepper. Let it boil briskly, uncovered, on a quick fire. Take off all scum when it begins to thicken & is reduced to about a quart. Put it in a smaller stewpan, set it over a gentle fire till reduced to the thickness of a very thick syrup. Take care it does not burn. Try a little out in a spoon. If it sets into jelly, it is done. If not, boil a little till it does. Have some little pots an inch & half deep. Take care they are quite dry.

The ‘digester’ in which this jellied stock would have been prepared was a forerunner of today’s pressure cookers, and would have certainly helped to speed up the cooking down of the beef bones. Nevertheless, preparing portable soup was a laborious process. As it formed, the stock needed to be regularly skimmed of fat – the smallest amount could otherwise turn rancid over time and badly affect the taste of the finished product.

Prepared with care and stored in a dry place, this kind of jellied bouillon could be kept for some time. When needed, the cubes would be quickly reconstituted into soup with the addition of boiling water, herbs and seasoning. Who needs Pot Noodle when you have portable soup?

A tale of gambling, girls and… sandwiches

The sandwich is not an 18th century invention. People across the world had already been eating snacks of bread and cheese, or bread and meat, for many hundreds of years. But it was during the Georgian era that the sandwich gained its name and became a recognised dish in its own right.

So what is the story of the sandwich? It starts in the mid 18th century with a piece of gossip about a Member of Parliament and his curious eating habits.

One of the earliest textual references to the rumour can be found in Pierre-Jean Grosely’s Londres, which first appeared in 1770. A guide to the people, customs and traditions of London, it was based on his Grosley’s own experiences of the city during a visit in 1756:

Extract from Pierre-Jean Grosley's three volume work Londres gives one of the earliest references to the sandwich.

Extract from Pierre-Jean Grosley’s three volume work Londres gives one of the earliest references to the sandwich.

A State minister spent 24 hours in a public gambling game, constantly occupied to the point that, during these 24 hours, he only lived off a few slices of grilled beef, which he had served to himself between two pieces of toasted bread, and which he ate without quitting the game. This new dish gained favour during my stay in London: it was christened the same name of the minister who had dreamt it up to save time. 

Grosely’s anonymous minister was none other than John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.

Whether the rumour was true or not, it certainly gathered momentum very quickly. People began asking for their bread and meat ‘the same as Sandwich’ and soon the snack itself became known by the minister’s name.

The appellation was the source of some amusement for satirists, who adopted the term to allude to the Earl’s complicated love life. In this cartoon of 1788, the Earl is shown ‘sandwiched’ between two admiring females:

'A Sandwich': an 18th century satirical cartoon.

‘A Sandwich’: an 18th century satirical cartoon.

Sandwich died in 1792 but his name survived him as the term for this bread-based snack. By the time William Kitchiner was composing his Cook’s Oracle the name ‘Sandwich’ had well and truly stuck. Here are Kitchiner’s suggestions for some satisfying sandwich fillings:

Ideas for sandwich fillings, transcribed in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle.

Ideas for sandwich fillings, transcribed in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle.

Materials for Sandwiches

Cold meat or poultry, potted or savoury ditto, ditto cheese, or grated ham or tongue, German sausages, hard eggs pounded with butter and cheese. Mustard, pepper and salt as necessary.

Next time you tuck into your lunch, spare a thought for the 4th Earl of Sandwich…

Cow heel

Despite the current culinary revival of using offal and cheap cuts of meat, there are some recipes in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies which only the most adventurous of cooks are likely attempt today.

Among these intrepid cooks is historical food expert Annie Gray, who gave nineteenth-century cow heels a try.

A nineteenth-century recipe for fried cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A nineteenth-century recipe for fried cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Cow Heel

This will furnish several good meals. When boiled tender, cut it into handsome pieces. Egg and bread crumb them, fry them a light brown, lay them round a dish and put in the middle sliced onions, fried.

The heel ready for boiling

The heel ready for boiling

Annie boiled the cow’s heel with a little carrot and leek to add flavour to the stock. Once cooked, she chopped the heel into pieces and coated them in breadcrumbs before frying up the whole lot in a deep pan of oil.

Once fried and drained of excess oil, the cow's heel is ready to serve

Once fried and drained of excess oil, the cow’s heel is ready to serve

What did she make of them?

It was not vile. Indeed, at first, they were rather pleasant. I would say that deep fried pigs’ ears, which are beginning to appear more and more on menus now, are better, as they have more crunch. These are a bit more gooey, and you do need to like the taste of cow – pork, I think, is a bit more accessible. As a starter or snack, they’d be great

Annie served her cow’s heel with cream and horseradish – a popular Georgian accompaniment. Alternatively, you could try it with ‘Mr Kelly’s Sauce for Boiled Tripe, Calf Head or Calf Heel’:

Garlick vinegar, a tablespoonful – of mustard, brown sugar & black pepper, a teaspoonful each stirred into half a pint of oiled melted butter.

Like many Georgian and Regency dishes, cow heel was highly economical to prepare. The stock formed when boiling the heel could be used to make jelly, and whole of the boiled heel could then be eaten, skin and all, with no waste.

If you take a liking to cow’s heel, you can even serve it as a sweet dish! In the following eighteenth-century recipe, the boiled heel is finely chopped and added to a fruited suet pudding mix:

Neat’s foot pudding, made with cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Neat’s foot pudding, made with cow heel, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Neat Foot Pudding

Let your feet be well boyled. Take half a pound of them chopd small, half a pound of beef shuit, half a pound of currants, four eggs well beatten, some sugar, three or four spoonfulls of flower, salt, sack, brandy and nutmeg. Mix all to gether. An hour will boyle it.

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.

Fish sauce four ways

A selection of sauces for serving with fish, from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

The Cookbook features four rather hearty recipes for wine-based sauces, each with an injection of heat from horseradish, a spicy pickle or a touch of cayenne pepper. All but one use red wine or port as a base. These hot, rich and tangy sauces may threaten to overpower the modern palate, but they were served as typical accompaniment to white fish well into the 19th century.

18th century recipe for sauce for bass, mullet or turbot, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for sauce for bass, mullet or turbot, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Sauce for Base Mullit or Turbet

Set half a pint of claret on ye fire with an onion shred, a little grose [coarse] pepper, a shillat, 2 anchoves, a little horse reddish scrape’t. Let it boyle till you think it has ye strength of ye spice, dren draw a good deal of fresh butter & mix it with yr wine. So pour it on yr fish.

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Sauce for Fish Another Way

Get some strong greavy, anchoves, shillot, nutmeg, & all spice. Set ym on ye fire together. Let ym stew a good while. Then strain it & draw a good deal of fresh butter, very thick, a glass of claret or white wine, ye body & pea of a lobster, or body of a crab. Mix all together. So serve it wth pickles.

The ‘pea of a lobster’ refers to the lobster’s coral, or egg sack.

The next recipe also suggests using shellfish as a flavouring. It asks for ‘oyster’s liquor’ or ‘cockle liquor’, the residual liquid found inside the shells:

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

How to Make Sauce for fish with out Gravey

Take a print of butter and brown it. Shake some flower. Then, if you have oysters liquor or cockell liquor, pour it to it, if not, clean water. Then put in anchoves, a fagot of sweet herbs, parsley. Slice thin a lemond, scrap som horse reddish, put it into half a pint of white wine. Then put in a pound or more of butter and draw it up all to gether. Great nutmeg and put it into it. So pour it on.

Our last recipe comes from the early 19th century, but draws on the same principle ingredients: a fortified red wine, shallots,  anchovies and a spicy kick from cayenne:

19th century recipe for fish sauce from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

19th century recipe for fish sauce from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Fish Sauce 

Two wineglasses of port, two of walnut pickle, half a dozen anchovies pounded, same of eshallots pounded & shied, a drachm of cayenne pepper. Let them simmer gently for ten minutes. Strain & when cold, put into bottles well corked & sealed. Twill keep a long time.

As well as a glug or two of full-bodied wine, all these recipes have another ingredient in common: the humble anchovy. This little fish has long been employed by chefs to add ‘oomph’ to sauces, and is commonly eaten used around the world in bottled condiments such as Worcestershire sauce and nam pla (Thai fish sauce). In his latest TV series, Nigel Slater featured the anchovy as a ‘secret’ ingredient for a flavoursome sauces . Our Cookbook shows that the anchovy’s potential to transform a sauce was far from secret in the Georgian era.