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

Take:
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.

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!

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?